Ipswich: Councils go to war over new signs to the entrance of the oldest English town
16:07 20 June 2014
Just sort it out! That’s our message today as the councils running services in Ipswich draw up battle lines in a furious row over new signs at the entrances to the county town.
The trip between councils’ office doesn’t take long
Just to demonstrate how easy it would have been for the borough council and the county council to sort this out quickly, my editor set me a monumental task - to walk all the way from Endeavour House (home of Suffolk County Council), across Russell Road, to Grafton House (home of Ipswich Borough Council.
Now, I’m not exactly Suffolk’s answer to Usain Bolt, but it took me all of 39 seconds to complete the 122 steps from door to door. If that’s too far (and I did worry that I hadn’t packed enough Kendal Mint Cake for the trek) they could always meet over coffee in “neutral territory’’ at the Cool Beanz cafe!
Everyone agrees new welcome signs are needed on the roads into the town. Everyone agrees they should link its heritage with its future as a waterfront and university town.
The new signs will send an important and positive message about Ipswich.
But there seems to have been little dialogue between officials from county council in Endeavour House and their counterparts at the borough about 100 metres away at Grafton House on the other side of Russell Road.
The borough claims that the “concept designs” were sent to the county for approval at the start of the year and it took four and a half months to get a decision, which was a rejection of the signs.
That means they cannot be up in time for the town’s summer festivals.
The county says that they received the signs on March 5. Their officials say it is not up to them to approve or reject the signs, it is a matter for the Department for Transport which has strict guidelines about the design of road signs.
Despite the county having concerns about the signs, they were sent to the Department for approval at the beginning of June – and within days they had been rejected.
That sparked a furious reaction from politicians at the borough and an equally strong reaction from their counterparts at the county.
Officials at the county say that the designs are unacceptable because they do not use approved fonts or print sizes, and the pictures are unclear and messy – they point out that the image of the Town Hall has a white van parked outside it.
The borough says the designs were only ever designed as “concepts” and they were unable to work with the county to develop them because every time they tried to talk to anyone the person involved was on holiday or involved in another project.
The county also says that the DfT was working on new guidelines early in the year and they needed to know the response to that before giving the borough firm advice.
Ipswich council’s Labour leader David Ellesmere pulled no punches in his anger over the way the decision on the signs has been handled.
He said: “I am not shocked. This one incident sums up what people think about the county council and the way it looks at Ipswich.
“It has taken four and a half months to consider our request and then it shows contempt for Ipswich.
“We think they were good designs and we then get knocked back like this – and it has taken so long to get a decision that we cannot do anything for this summer now.”
He was particularly angry that the county had not contacted the Department for Transport about the signs until early June – when the Star had asked what was happening to the proposal to put up new signs.
However Conservative transport spokesman at the county Graham Newman said: “I totally reject the claims that we treat Ipswich with contempt and the attempts to turn this into a political battle.
“Ipswich is our county town and I want to do everything we can to make it a county town of which we can all be really proud. That is why we worked very hard to get £21 million to improve the town’s transport system.”
Mr Newman said he would like to see officers from both authorities working together to complete details on new signs that would be acceptable to the DfT.
He said: “I work closely with (Ipswich Labour councillor) Phil Smart on transport issues, and indeed with David himself. I hope we can get this sorted out.”
And those views were echoed by the town’s Conservative MP Ben Gummer. He said: “People just want to see this all sorted out. They should just get together and thrash out a design that will be acceptable all around.”