Great Yarmouth - constituency profile
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
With weeks to go until the May election, reporter Lucy Clapham sets the scene in the key battleground of Great Yarmouth.
Great Yarmouth is well-known as a traditional seaside holiday resort that attracts thousands of visitors to its wide sandy beaches and famous Golden Mile, stuffed with bold, brassy amusement arcades.
But after last year’s local elections, which saw UKIP gain 10 seats on the borough council, it has started to hit the political headlines. And it is being seen as one of the Euro-sceptic party’s key battlegrounds on May 7.
Since 2010 the seat has been held by Conservative member Brandon Lewis who took the place from long-standing Labour member Tony Wright with just over 43pc of the vote.
The constituency map takes in a long stretch of coastline, from Winterton in the north to Hopton in the south, and covers a large inland area around the Broads, extending as far west as Fritton and Clippesby.
The borough is home to approximately 97,800 people, 64pc of whom live in Great Yarmouth – the constituency’s biggest town – Gorleston and Bradwell. Outlying villages including Caister, Hemsby, Hopton, Martham and Ormesby have large amounts of housing and those on the coast often see their population grown during the summer.
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A key issue that is often brought up by residents is the need for more social and affordable housing. Just over 17pc of the borough’s population live in social housing.
In December families moved into the first council homes to be built in the borough for 20 years. The 12 properties were built in Caister, Martham and Bradwell as infill developments on existing estates and in March tenants started moving into new flats in two former public buildings in Yarmouth town centre, rented by social landlord Saffron Housing.
The borough council also has more plans to build social and affordable homes on a swathe of land at Beacon Park in Gorleston.
Hundreds of new properties are already being built in the area by developer Persimmon, as part of the new A143 link road scheme, and the council is now putting together its own proposals for a 7.3 hectare swathe.
Many jobs in Great Yarmouth are linked to tourism, but when this shuts down at the end of the summer season, many people can find themselves out of work. A lack of full time jobs is often cited as a problem for many – with zero-hour contracts also raising concerns in recent months.
A Just Jobs campaign was launched in the town last year in a bid to help jobseekers find work, and campaigners have now started asking local firms to improve the way local vacancies are advertised.
There has also been recent unrest about “unfair” sanctions by those claiming jobseekers’ allowance, which has seen two protests held outside the Jobcentre.
But the latest official figures have suggested that the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2007 and Jobcentre bosses have said there was plenty for jobseekers to be positive about – with new businesses moving into the town.
A reoccurring concern for people across the borough is Great Yarmouth’s struggling town centre, which has suffered dwindling numbers in recent years. Retail stores including clothing firm M&Co and Burtons have pulled out of the Market Place to be replaced by banks, while other high street names have pulled out leaving empty units – many of which have been vacant for several months.
The loss of the King Street M&S store in January dealt a body blow to the town centre, but there are hopes it is starting to enjoy a resurgence. The former Co-op building has been sold to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, which hopes to open at the end of the year and the owners of Market Gates, have said they are in the advanced stages of negotiation with several retailers.
The borough council has also set aside a £1m pot to improve the Market Place. Plans for what the money will be spent on are still being worked on but suggestions include better bins, improved street furniture and public artworks.
As the main road into the borough the eight mile stretch of the A47 has a notorious reputation. A minor shunt can cause chaos, with traffic queuing for miles. As a single carriageway road with marshland and deep ditches either side, there is nowhere for traffic to go should there be a collision.
There have been calls to dual the road for decades but in the latest round of government cash, this plan was still off the cards. In December it was announced that £50m would be spent on Yarmouth’s roads, with money allocated for improving the Gapton Hall, Harfreys and Vauxhall roundabouts. A whopping £10m has been allocated for the Acle Straight to be spent on safety improvements.