Having the Upper Orwell Crossings shouldn’t stop us targeting a northern bypass

Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners.

Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners. - Credit: Archant

The biggest project I’ve been working on since my appointment as Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Ipswich is the Upper Orwell Crossings.

This £96million development has received a lot of coverage in recent weeks – and rightly so. It is a project of significant importance for the town and one we at the council are committed to getting right.

Ever since Foster and Partners were unveiled as the architects for the crossings, enabling them to further their connection with Suffolk’s county town, people’s appetites, mine included, have grown to see the crossings completed.

While the images provided so far are only design concept images, it’s exciting to see what could be provided by the architectural team behind the three crossings – all you need to do is look at other projects designed by them all over the globe, including the Willis Building in Ipswich.

The benefits will be massive. This scheme could unlock economic regeneration to the tune of around £6.5bn, in an area where development has stalled, creating skilled jobs to continue Ipswich’s push to become a major player not only in this region, but across the country.

There will be traffic benefits too, as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the crossings to shorten their journeys to, from and across town. Traffic modelling has shown journey times could be cut by more than 18%. Congestion in the town and around the waterfront will be cut too.

These are benefits that persuaded government to provide £77m towards the £96m project.

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There are other bonuses too – the crossings could become something people visit the town for alone, adding to the heritage already present in the centre of the town. We can also look forward to some stunning views of the River Orwell and Ipswich’s waterfront.

It is something we can all be excited about. Something we should be excited about. I know our stakeholders are and so are many members of the public. The money is there and we will complete it.

And it would be remiss to ignore the Ipswich Northern Route when discussing the Upper Orwell Crossings.

Some perceive the go-ahead for the crossings as the end of the road for any potential northern route. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

We understand there is a want for it and work is underway to see if it is possible. Initial assessment work has been done and was published earlier this year. The benefits of the project, which will probably cost more than £300 million are there for all to see and work is progressing to identify the best route corridor and assess the impacts, benefits and opportunities.

Benefits are likely to include further easing of congestion on the town centre, improved journey times for east – west trips, and a number of economic benefits arising from the unlocking of potential development sites.

But this is something that requires more work. Houses would need to be built to further unlock economic benefits and conversations will need to be had with the public and members of parliament along the route to ensure the local environment is protected as far as possible.

It will require a lot of work and a lot of money, from both central government and local financers, as well as ourselves, to make this ambition a reality.

If the project, in whatever form, makes sense, we will work with our partners to persuade government for funding to get on the ground and build it.

For this project, we must look at where we succeeded with receiving funding for the crossings and use that energy to work with our partners to see it through. If we can do that, a future northern bypass stands every chance.

There is no single fix to congestion. While the bridge will deliver some, another way we’re hoping to do so is through Park and Ride. Thanks to all our staff so far who have signed up to the free trial, using the service as a means to get to and from work.

Just because we have the crossings on their way does not mean more cannot be done for the town – and I will do my best with my colleagues to make sure that happens.