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Will making buses easier to use in Ipswich spark a green revolution?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 13 February 2020

Can changes make bus journeys more attractive? Picture: PAUL GEATER

Can changes make bus journeys more attractive? Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Transport and environmental issues have been all over the news locally and nationally over the last week – and sometimes it’s been incredibly difficult to work out the logic behind those who take positions on these issues.

Members of Suffolk Sunrise from Extinction Rebellion delivered a child size coffin to the Borough Council with 63 masks representing the number of pollution related deaths in Ipswich  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNMembers of Suffolk Sunrise from Extinction Rebellion delivered a child size coffin to the Borough Council with 63 masks representing the number of pollution related deaths in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The national issue that has sparked this is, of course, the government's decision to go ahead with HS2. To my mind that was the only logical decision. It will free up capacity on the existing rail lines out of London and finally create a real high-speed rail network in this country.

I still cannot quite work out why Green campaigners are so opposed to a new electric train line being built - it will use up much less land than a motorway and create much less pollution. And frankly I don't believe these claims that it will destroy vast swathes of virgin countryside. It might change them, but nature has a habit of coping with change.

On the coat tails of this we had the announcement that the government is planning to spend £5bn on new bus and cycle networks.

That might be a tiny fraction of what is being spent on HS2, but in any normal times £5bn to be spent on buses and cycling would be seen as a really big deal.

Hopefully this will make a big impression in places like Ipswich - and I was delighted to hear this week that the county council is finally talking to bus companies about introducing a bus partnership scheme so passengers can use their tickets on whichever bus reaches their stop first.

For far too long politicians at Endeavour House seemed to regard this as something that was more trouble than it was worth. It was good to hear that new cabinet member for transport Andrew Reid doesn't share that view - the easier it is to use the bus, the more likely people are to leave their car at home for short trips to the town centre.

Now there's an issue that can get people going! I wrote a piece last week about an environmental network calling on Ipswich council to stop running car parks in a bid to dissuade motorists from driving into the town centre.

From an abstract point of view I can see that discouraging people from driving into the town centre is a desirable objective. It would be much more pleasant to visit the town centre if there was not ring of roads around it and the town centre has to evolve.

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When I visit other places like Norwich, Cambridge, Chelmsford and even Colchester I tend not to want to drive into the heart of the town or city. I will use park and ride or travel by train.

It's the same when we go to really large cities - over the last few years we've visited Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Exeter and Leicester. In every case we've either travelled by train or left the car on the edge and used a park and ride or similar to reach the centre.

But I'm not at all convinced that attempting to stop people driving into Ipswich would be at all sensible.

For a start, (and this might be a shock to many) traffic in Ipswich is nowhere near as bad as it is in similar-sized towns and cities. And the public transport isn't very good. Ban motorists and I suspect the Ipswich town centre would wither and die before it ever has the chance to reinvent itself as a chic place to live.

Ipswich town centre is contracting and changing. We saw that again last week when it was revealed that one of the Boots stores was to close while nearly a dental surgery was to open to offer services to an increasing number of people living in the town centre.

That is the way of the world in 2020. The old idea of people living in suburbs coming into the town centre to work or to shop is dying rapidly. People will still need to come into the town centre to meet, to socialise but the importance of retail is bound to contract.

In 20 years time the need for so many car parks might have diminished. Business like Willis and Axa might realise that they don't need to provide so many spaces for people to drive in during rush hours and clog the roads (and their workers might have realised that if they change their working practices they don't have to sit in long traffic jams to get to and from work).

But a town centre without cars or car parking spaces? It's years or decades away!

One last point. Last week we had a mock funeral by members of Extinction Rebellion to highlight the dangers of pollution in the town.

I have to say I felt this was an effective way for XR to get its message across. It was visually striking and was well argued. I personally am not convinced by the figure of 63 deaths from air pollution - how can we know what other factors may contribute to a death? - but as demonstrations go it made its point and didn't really inconvenience anyone.

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