�27m to ease town congestion

IPSWICH: A furious war of words broke out today over a �27million scheme to ease congestion in the town centre.

Ipswich’s Labour MP hailed the announcement as a major boost – but the county’s Conservative transport chief dismissed it as “pathetic”.

The scheme has crossed its first government hurdle – but there are many more obstacles to overcome before work on transforming the town can start.

Suffolk County Council’s bid for government funding for their scheme, called Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century, has been given provisional approval by the Department for Transport.

The county now has to meet conditions laid down by the department and produce a programme of works.

There is also a warning in the government announcement, which says: “The Department expects to fund the scheme, subject to the future availability of funds.”

That could be worrying given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned this week of cuts “harsher than those during the Thatcher era”.

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The scheme includes rebuilding the two bus stations in the town centre, creating new pedestrian/cycle routes across the town and installing a new electronic traffic control scheme which would give priority to buses on key routes into the town centre.

The proposals also include replacing the Civic Drive/Princes Street roundabout with traffic lights – and filling in the underpass.

Ipswich MP Chris Mole welcomed the announcement by the Department, in which he is a junior minister – although he could take no part in the decision because it involves his constituency.

He said: “This gives a clear indication to the county that they should continue to prepare this scheme and hopefully the money will be available for it next year.”

Suffolk’s cabinet member with responsibility for transport, Guy McGregor, was less happy about the announcement.

He said: “This has got the very lowest level of approval from the government.

“We were expecting to clear many more hurdles than this. It is pathetic.

“It is just the kind of scheme the government says it wants to promote but we are now left in limbo until after the election and possibly beyond.”

Mr Mole said it was never likely that the scheme would have passed more than one hurdle at a time.

He added: “I can well imagine this is the kind of scheme that might fall victim if George Osborne is in a position to look for cuts after the election, but so far as this government is concerned it is a scheme that is well worth bringing forward.”

Conservative candidate Ben Gummer was disappointed that the decision had only come now when the general election campaign is about to start.

“If the decision had been taken a year ago, we could have started work by now and it wouldn’t be threatened by spending cuts. This smacks of a political decision,” he said.

n What do you think of the plans? Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk