We’ve had good news recently on the Upper Orwell Crossings. But I promised two new routes at the last election: one across the river and one around the top of the town. I want to update you on where we are with that second vital pledge.
Let’s start with some simple facts. Leaving aside the merits of a new road for a minute – and I shall return to them shortly – you have to be very, very sure you need one before you start to build. Roads have the potential to cause the demolition of buildings, cover hundreds of acres in tarmac, eat up farmland, put natural habitats at risk, divide communities and cause significant, unpleasant noise. So if a new road is proposed, the first question you need to ask is “is it absolutely necessary?” If the answer to that question is “yes”, then your second question must always be: “how can we build this road so that it does the least damage possible?”
So, how does this apply to a new road around the top of the town. Each of us knows about the increase in congestion around the north of the town, and when the Orwell Bridge is shut the town comes to a halt. These are strong arguments on their own but what is stronger still is the prospect of growth: if the town is to expand, which is surely will in the years ahead – and not by a little but by a great deal – then we simply cannot do that without new infrastructure.
I came to this conclusion shortly after I was elected in 2010, when the scale of the Northern Fringe and what followed it became clear. At the time, both councils refused to think about a new road – frightened, I suppose, by what it would entail. I didn’t feel we could dodge the question, however, which is why I lobbied them hard to get the planning process started. In 2015 they agreed and commissioned an outline route survey, the simple results of which are shown in the picture. The words of the report could not be more clear:
‘Overall…, the wider Ipswich area is expected to continue to grow in the future, and action is needed to avoid the adverse impact this will likely have on the local and strategic highway network, potentially limiting housing and employment growth.
‘At this early stage it appears that an Inner Route Corridor or a Middle Route Corridor has the largest potential for attracting trips from Ipswich, and the Orwell Bridge Crossing. These options also perform well in terms of reducing overall travel times and distances travelled. An Outer Route Corridor provides more of a strategic benefit but provides less benefit to reducing congestion [in] Ipswich.’
We are now in the process of discovering which route to choose. Given that the report already indicates that the ‘Lower’ and ‘Middle’ routes are the best, I believe we have a simple choice: which one can be delivered most quickly, with least pain and damage to the communities and habitats it will affect.
This will clearly be a difficult discussion for those people who live and own land to the north of Ipswich. We must all be sensitive to that. But we should also be straight about what would happen if we do not build. Their villages and country lanes will become increasingly clogged with rat-running traffic, creating precisely the nuisance that they fear from a new road.
But as the report makes quite clear, the effect would be even worse on Ipswich. Given that it is our county town that is the largest engine of jobs, prosperity and opportunity in the county, stifling that growth would also have the effect of limiting the opportunities and prosperity of the villages and market towns too. For if the county wants the school, college and university places, the careers, the parks and museums, the shops and restaurants, the cinemas and the theatres, that Ipswich already provides and will do so much more of in the years to come, then Ipswich must be helped to prosper and grow.
More than that, if we are to have the new houses that people need, the starter homes that will mean that everyone has the chance of having a place of their own, then we need to build. And if those homes are not built around Ipswich, then they will be by the hundred in the same villages and by the thousands in the same market towns that are seeking to protect themselves from excessive growth.
So, having made a decision we need a new road – not just for the good of Ipswich but for Suffolk too – we must now choose a route that realises that end as quickly and positively as possible. I will push hard for that decision and then, as quickly as possible, for that decision to turn into reality.