[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered tourism in the East of England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Tourism is a vital industry, not only because it supports so many other industries but because it is an excellent source of direct investment into our economy from abroad. Naturally, the east of England is too vast a region, with too much to offer, to cover adequately in 30 minutes. That is why, perhaps unsurprisingly, I would like to focus on Colchester and explain why I believe it deserves the attention, investment, and support of Government.
Many people will have heard of Colchester borough, perhaps from having eaten some of Colchester’s fantastic local produce such as Wilkin & Sons of Tiptree, Fairfield Farm crisps and our world-famous oysters, eaten since Roman times. But how many will know about our incredible wealth of history and the tourist attractions our town and borough have to offer? How many know that we are Britain’s oldest recorded town and Britain’s first Roman city? Colchester castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe. We have the largest and longest intact Roman walls in the country, which can still be walked around today. We have the only Roman circus found in Britain. One of the world’s best-known nursery rhymes, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, was written in Colchester. We are home to the Parachute Regiment and have been a garrison town since Roman times. We have the largest Victorian water tower in Britain.
I have barely scratched the surface, as Colchester is the jewel in the crown of East Anglia, especially when it comes to heritage. Whether people are discovering our Anglo-Saxon, Roman and Norman heritage at Gosbecks archaeological park, visiting Holy Trinity church, Colchester castle or the Roman Circus Centre, living like the personal physician to Elizabeth I at Tymperleys, staring up in awe at Jumbo, our Victorian water tower, visiting our stunning town hall, having dinner at the Old Siege House and seeing the musket balls still stuck in the wooden beams from the English civil war, or taking a walk around our Roman walls, built to avoid a repeat of the revolt that saw Boudicca burn the town to the ground in AD 60-61, Colchester is a town in which history truly comes alive.
Our town has so much more to offer than just heritage. We have fabulous leisure facilities, stunning parks including Gosbecks, Castle Park, Westlands and High Woods country park, and the River Colne on our doorstep. Constable country and the Dedham vale offer beautiful landscapes. For those who want something a little less peaceful, we have Leisure World, Jump Street, numerous soft play facilities, Rollerworld—Europe’s largest roller sports facility—and a wealth of new facilities planned at the new Northern Gateway leisure development sitting alongside Colchester United and Colchester rugby club, which are both going from strength to strength.
Our cultural offering is second to none, making us the cultural capital of Essex and arguably the eastern region. The Mercury theatre is going through a multimillion pound redevelopment programme called Mercury Rising. Colchester Arts Centre, Firstsite, the Minories and the Headgate theatre all offer fantastic theatre, exhibitions and much more. Many start in Colchester and then spread out across the country and beyond.
It has never been easier to visit Colchester: it is 50 minutes from the City of London by train, 30 minutes from Harwich international port and 45 minutes from Stansted airport. It could not be easier to come and see our exciting and vibrant town with an incredible past and a bright future.
I note that the motion on the Order Paper reads:
“That this House has considered tourism in the East of England”.
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would be willing to be consider tourism in any part of the east of England other than Colchester. Might he recommend that people stay on the train for an additional 15 minutes in order to sample the delights of Ipswich?
Although my speech is somewhat Colchester-centric, of course I would advise anybody coming to sample our heritage and tourist attractions, who choose to base themselves in Colchester for all sorts of reasons, to use it as a base to go and experience other places with considerably wealthy heritage and tourist attractions. Ipswich is one of those, just a bit further up the A12.
Stevenage is also in the east of England. It is a little further up the A1(M) and also on the east coast main line. We also have wonderful culture and heritage, despite being the first new town. Rooks Nest is the basis of E. M. Forster’s novel, “Howard’s End”. We also have Knebworth House, which has a great history. There is lots of culture around the whole of the east of England.
I used to live in my hon. Friend’s constituency, so I have sampled a number of the tourist attractions with my wife, and I hope to do so again. Knebworth House hosts a number of festivals throughout the year and is a popular attraction. Clearly, we are building on fertile ground when investing in the east of England, and Colchester in particular.
My hon. Friend is making a persuasive case for Colchester. I could do likewise for Lowestoft. Does he agree that for the east of England as a whole we should adopt a more comprehensive rather than piecemeal approach to showcasing our glories?
My hon. Friend is right; even in Colchester I do not think we are good enough at taking a holistic approach to our tourism offering. I have not spent much time in Waveney but I very much hope to. Essex and the eastern region as a whole should do far more—perhaps through local enterprise partnerships—to ensure we make an attractive proposition across the board, to spend a week in East Anglia and the east of England and sample the delights of the region.
I would appreciate if the Minister could outline how we can increase Government support for Colchester and the wider east of England. Will he agree to visit Colchester to help me to promote our town as a fantastic destination to visit and invest in? Outside this debate, I have already made efforts to encourage Government investment. I am aware that this may be a matter for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but I would like to reference briefly the stronger towns fund and future high streets programme. I have written to the Department in support of Colchester Borough Council’s recent application to the future high streets programme. I hope the council will be successful in receiving some of that £600 million fund.
We need investment to continue Colchester’s momentum—in a tourism not a political sense—in attracting tourists from across the UK and further afield. The full potential of Britain’s oldest recorded town and its first Roman city should never be squandered. Funding from the future high streets programme or similar Government funds would go a long way to double down on our existing strengths. The building blocks for truly remarkable growth in our tourism sector are there, but Government investment is needed to keep the ball rolling.
If Colchester received some of the £1.6 billion available under the stronger towns fund, specifically the £600 million to be allocated competitively, we could significantly enhance our town’s attractions, unlock its many assets and encourage further visitors to the area. I have mentioned that investment builds on fertile ground in the east of England, but investment must lead the way if tourism is to follow.
Hon. Members will be pleased to know that this is my last reference to Colchester: upgrading the A120 between Braintree and Colchester, and the A12, are key. I ask that the Department for Transport look favourably on the bid, to get people to our town and region.
Outside the Roman walls of Colchester, we have the good fortune to enjoy truly remarkable natural sites, which continue to attract visitors from across the country and overseas. More than 10,000 hectares of land in the region are administered by the National Trust, employing approximately 140 staff members who lead a network of 2,200 local volunteers, and attracting 1.5 million visitors annually. Naturally, that provides a strong foundation for a thriving hospitality sector. The east of England’s hospitality sector has a workforce of more than 246,000 people and represents 8% of overall regional employment. That adds a staggering £5.8 billion to the region’s economy. Historic England has estimated that heritage-related trips alone generated £16.9 billion across the country in 2016. The extent to which our region is already on a firm footing is clear.
The foundation and the businesses are there, the infrastructure is largely there, and the sites are there. The east of England, with Colchester leading the way, has so much to offer. We just need investment to truly unlock our potential. I repeat my invitation to the Minister to please visit Colchester, to help me to promote our historic town and the surrounding region, and to encourage Government funding to support and develop the east of England’s appeal as a tourist destination.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) on securing this important debate. It fills all our hearts—and I would like to think those of our constituents—with joy and optimism to celebrate the culture, heritage, community and, importantly, diversity we share across the east of England. My hon. Friend is my constituency neighbour and we share the borough of Colchester. It was a real joy to hear him speak about the positive aspects of tourism in Colchester borough, many of which we share, and stand up for tourism and hospitality more widely, which, as he said, have real economic benefits.
I would like briefly to make a number of key points. The hospitality sector is pivotal to the tourism ecosystem across the east of England, including in Witham, which is urban, rural and coastal. Tourism has many guises, and hospitality comes in many forms, including pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants. We should pay tribute to the people who work sometimes very long and difficult hours in pressurised circumstances in the hospitality sector. If I may say so, the hospitality sector in Essex in particular is enormous. It is based very much on seasonal work and on individuals working incredibly hard to produce great outputs and make a strong contribution to both our local economy and the national economy. That boosts tourism not only in our constituencies but in the region and the wider country.
My hon. Friend mentioned one of the finest products in the country: Wilkin & Sons Tiptree jams and conserves. That is now an international export; it is well known not only in the House of Commons but in some of the finest establishments—hotels and shops—around the world. Wilkin & Sons, which is based in the village of Tiptree in the Witham constituency and the Colchester borough, is a stunning example of a family business that has gone from success to success and expanded internationally. It contributes to many aspects of tourism; it has tea shops and farms, and it is a magnet for tourists. At the same time, it employs people in the local community and sells the great Tiptree brand internationally, boosting our standing in the world and generating tourism to the region and our country. Of course, there are many other attractions in the area, including the Museum of Power in Langford in my constituency, and Tollesbury on the coast, which are all known for the great contribution they make to the tourism sector.
Let me make two final points. I mentioned employment and seasonal work, which are pivotal to ensuring that constituencies such as mine have a thriving tourism economy. At the same time, the hospitality sector needs a flexible labour market and flexibility about how it recruits and trains workers—migrant workers in particular. The Government are testing a seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which will absolutely affect the east of England and we hope will have a positive impact on tourism, hospitality and the agriculture economy—that attracts tourism, too—in the region.
Finally, there have been many debates in Westminster Hall about infrastructure in the eastern region and in Essex. My hon. Friend rightly pivoted to the A12, the A120 and the rest of our road network. If our economy is to grow and the tourism sector is to be successful, we need much more investment in infrastructure. The Government need to lean in and influence local authorities in particular to stick to their pledges to support investment in the expansion of the A12, followed by the A120, which the Government have indicated their backing for in the past, to ensure that tourism continues to thrive and grow.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone; I will be very brief. I was first elected to the House to represent a part of Colchester, so I fully endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) in promoting its many attractions, which I can vouch for.
I now represent the Maldon district. We are all part of the east of England, which does not always get the attention it deserves—people talk about the Lake district and the west country—but has many attractions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) mentioned some of the attractions in her constituency—indeed, I used to represent some of those as well. We share what is known as the saltmarsh coast, which is an extraordinary asset for recreation, wildlife and sailing.
The other great asset I represent is a place that should be nationally famous but is not: the Stow Maries great war aerodrome, the last remaining first world war aerodrome. It is being restored, with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, but it does not attract nearly as many visitors as it should because it is not well enough known.
In Maldon and elsewhere we recognise that digital marketing is key—perhaps the Minister will touch on that—and that people now look online to see where there are attractions, but there is not enough co-ordination. The Maldon district promotes things in the Maldon district, and Colchester borough promotes things in Colchester, but there needs to be more co-ordination so that we can demonstrate all of the region’s attractions to people who are thinking of visiting the east of England. I am thinking not just of Essex; I am very happy for the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) to participate as well to promote Suffolk. We sit on this great asset, and I do not believe we are yet doing enough to exploit it.
It is great to participate in this debate about Colchester and other small villages around eastern area principalities. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) was rightly dominated by events in Colchester. I spent three years in Colchester, and he told me things about it that I did not pick up in that time. I look forward to receiving an invitation to the oyster festival, which I missed while I was there. Also, as an advocate for Tiptree jam—I think Tiptree is just outside his constituency—I feel another visit in support of a colleague coming on.
Southend, which I represent alongside Rochford, is built on tourism. It receives 7.5 million visitors each year, up by half a million since 2016, when statistics were previously produced. Tourists generate £335 million in revenue for the town, up by £22 million since 2016. The local authority tells me, very specifically, that there are 9,586 jobs as a result of tourism, which is up by 607 since 2016. More than £50 million is generated by overnight accommodation, up by £2 million since 2016. Tourism is a very big part of our economy, and it has built up over time.
I recommend that all hon. Members come to Southend. We have Adventure Island, the seafront and London Southend international airport. Southend is a great place for people to base themselves if they want to be outside central London but just 50 minutes by train to Tower Hill. We have three casinos, a number of good golf courses, kitesurfing, sailing, Southend United and nightclubs. We have prestige boutique hotels, but also guesthouses and big-ticket hotels such as Plaza, Holiday Inn and Premier Inn.
I would like to draw one of those hotels to your attention, Mr Hollobone. I am pretty sure you would be welcome at any time at the establishment of Garry Lowen, who runs Gleneagles Guesthouse. I was with him celebrating National Bed and Breakfast Week over the weekend. Fortuitously, I got two press releases out of that constituency visit, because he is our candidate in the local government elections tomorrow. If colleagues want to pop down tomorrow, they could sample the best of Southend, see the tourism and how it fits into the eastern region, and also campaign for Garry in the election.
Mention was made of social media, which is incredibly important. Southend has concentrated heavily on visitsouthend.co.uk, and in just a year it has moved from 120th to 25th in the English tourism social media index. That has really driven its promotion of what it has to offer.
All that remains is for me formally to invite everyone to Southend. Mr Hollobone gets a free stay at Gleneagles Guesthouse; I am afraid lesser mortals only get free Rossi’s ice cream, but everyone is very welcome.
It is a pleasure to be the Minister responding to this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) for raising the subject and commend him for the passion with which he spoke. In fact, all Members were walking advertisements for their constituencies, and rightly so. My hon. Friend mentioned “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” and the Parachute Regiment—that must be the only time those two have been in the same sentence. He also talked about Colchester jams, preserves, crisps and oysters. I hope that he will be sent some samples and, if so, no doubt he will share them.
My hon. Friend touched on the importance of tourism generally. Colchester is known to be the first Roman-founded city in Britain and, as such, the current settlement can lay claim to being Britain’s oldest town. That is some accolade. As a result, it is part of the “most ancient European towns network”, among such illustrious locales as Argos in Greece, Cadiz in Spain and Cork in Ireland. The network’s members seek to work together on issues such as tourism, city planning with heritage taken into consideration, and archaeological research.
Colchester is easy to get to. I say that without undertaking to go there myself immediately, but I am keen to go and I will do my very best—I hope to go there this year. It is a short distance from London by train or car, and London Stansted airport and the ferry port of Harwich are also in close proximity. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) spoke about the world war one aerodrome. I am not sure whether the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport budget will allow me to fly to his constituency—if it did, it would probably be in a world war one biplane. It is an attractive location that I have read about, and a lot of aviation enthusiasts would definitely be interested in visiting it. I hope more people will hear about it after today’s debate.
At London Southend airport there are a number of private helicopters that can be hired. Could I arrange for one to pick the Minister up at the London Heliport and take him to London Southend airport, so he can go to the aerodrome and maybe tour the whole area, going as far as Ipswich or somewhere even more exotic?
The hon. Gentleman is very generous to offer to pay for that journey, but I could not possibly intrude in that way. We will see if we can get there by more conventional means.
There are an impressive selection of attractions in the area, including Gosbecks Archaeological Park and Colchester Zoo. The Government have provided support to lesser known attractions in Colchester. Over £5,800,000 went to projects through the Heritage Lottery Fund, including contributions to the redevelopment of Colchester castle, the restoration of the Moot Hall pipe organ and the Transforming People to Transform Museums project, which aims to develop local skills. That represents nearly £6 million of Government investment into tourism attractions in Colchester. That is not to say that there is not more that we can do, because of course there always is.
Tourism is a crucial part of our economy, and I am pleased to say that it is thriving in the UK. 2017 brought record numbers of international visitors and was our best year ever recorded. The visitors spent record amounts of money across our great nation. Tourism is an important part of our economy; it provides jobs in the most rural of areas, it brings wealth and prosperity to our coasts and cities, and it is a much loved activity that enriches all parts. There is more that we can do. The upcoming future high streets fund, which colleagues touched on, and the recently announced stronger towns fund will contribute towards developing our more rural and coastal visitor economies in the years to come.
Tourism is good for us as a people and as a nation; we are on the world stage, being open and inviting to visitors. It is often said—and recently oft repeated—that this country remains open for business. I have been repeating the line that we are also open for leisure. We want people to visit this country for its wonderful leisure options and attractions, including our heritage and cultural offers, which are second to none. That is a reason that as a nation we punch above our weight in many spheres, including in soft power, where we are number one in the world on the Portland analysis of soft power. We gain much by visiting other places and becoming more rounded, understanding individuals. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, we will continue to be an open and welcoming nation.
To that end, I commend VisitBritain to all my hon. Friends who mentioned their constituencies today. That organisation does a tremendous job promoting the United Kingdom to the world, using images from across the country to demonstrate the wonders we have to offer potential visitors. I also commend the Discover England fund. The east of England has benefited from a good deal of Government funding, focused on the development and promotion of tourism across the area.
As this debate is specifically about the east of England, I mention several projects that have enhanced the tourism offer there. The Passport to the Coast project seeks to encourage visitors to build their own itinerary and experience the coastline from Hull to Harwich in all its glory. The Friendly Invasion project aims to attract visitors from the United States to explore the many American air force bases in East Anglia, where approximately 180,000 US airmen were stationed during world war two. The east of England touring route will take visitors from London to Northumberland, through the length of the east of England. Those visitors can develop their own individual itineraries for their journey. These are among the options that VisitBritain has, and I recommend that hon. Members look at the Discover England fund projects, which are designed to get visitors out of London and heading to all parts of the country.
The cultural development fund is another way in which the Government have been supporting our cultural offer. We recently announced £4.3 million funding for the Thames estuary production corridor. That project will make the area a world leader in the cultural and creative industries, by investing in apprenticeships for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, by creating new jobs and workspaces in the area, and by delivering Estuary 2020, an international arts festival that will draw audiences from across the world. The fund is part of the Government’s creative industries sector deal that sees Government and industry working together to invest in the future of the sector and, more widely, the future of these locations.
Staying with the arts, there is a lot of support for the arts scene in the east of England. Arts Council England has provided £300,000 to local organisations working collaboratively in the promotion of cultural tourism, with the aim of increasing cultural tourism in Suffolk and Norfolk. The Making Waves project received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England to encourage collaborative working between the arts, culture and tourism sectors, and to encourage a greater contribution to local social and economic strategies. The ultimate goal is to make places in the east of England, such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, even better places to live, work and visit, by supporting the creation of local cultural strategies, increasing cultural education for children and young people, and using heritage and the arts to drive economic growth. Heritage and the arts certainly do that, and all Members can benefit from that.
Question put and agreed to.