Ipswich: Always look on the bright side of life as Silent Street set to be dug up . . . again!

National Grid plans to dig up Silent Street, just months after it was rebuilt.

National Grid plans to dig up Silent Street, just months after it was rebuilt. - Credit: Archant

On the day that the surviving Pythons announced they were reuniting on stage, a new farce emerged on the streets of Ipswich – but few find this one funny!

Just days after Travel Ipswich finished an eight-month rebuilding of Silent Street in the town centre, a letter from the National Grid arrived at Suffolk County Council – saying they would be digging up the road to lay a new gas main.

Engineers and politicians at the county are furious that National Grid had not co-ordinated its works with the Travel Ipswich project.

Both Anglian Water and UK Power Networks took trouble to check on when Travel Ipswich works were planned and linked work in with them.

Businesses and homes in Silent Street have been sent letters by National Grid telling them that the work is due to start within the next six months.

However engineers at the county have been told that digging will start in February – the first anniversary of the Travel Ipswich work starting!

Officials at the county told utilities – including National Grid – about the proposed work in Silent Street in September 2012, five months before work started.

The complex rebuilding of the road took eight months, and included laying specialist paving on the historic street.

However National Grid gave no indication that they wanted to replace the existing gas main until 31 October this year – ten days after the street fully reopened to traffic.

The cost of the Silent Street work has not been calculated in detail because it linked in with the rebuilding of Falcon Street and the Old Cattle Market – but it is believed to have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Although the county cannot prevent National Grid from digging up the road, it will insist its engineers restore it to exactly the same condition it is now in.

It is not the first time National Grid have caused problems in the town – last year the company came under fire from traders in Fore Street because of the length of time it took to replace a gas main there, hitting trade significantly.

Bosses at Suffolk County Council were as diplomatic as possible over the situation – but their irritation was only partially masked.

Cabinet member for transport Graham Newman said: “Even though we are the highways authority, we have limited powers over utilities companies when it comes to when and where they carry out works.

“This is often a cause of frustration to us and other authorities and is why we’re organising a summit with utilities companies in the new year to address this specific point. Other councils are taking similar action.

“I am prepared to work with all parties, including our MPs, to take any steps we can to encourage utilities to plan their works more carefully.

“Failure to do this annoys us, the public and business owners and must be stopped as soon as possible.

“The works National Grid will be carrying out will be at their own expense, as will returning the road surface to its current state. We will challenge any failure to do this robustly.”

One of the premises to receive notice of the closure from National Grid was the Ipswich Labour Party.

Agent John Cook said: “I couldn’t believe it when we got this letter. I thought utilities were supposed to co-ordinate works like this.

“It’s clearly not emergency work because it says it will be done in the next six months, so why couldn’t they have combined it with the Travel Ipswich project?”

A spokeswoman for National Grid said a meeting was due to be held with the county council next week to discuss the proposed work.

“We will be working with the council to try to resolve the issues surrounding this proposal,” she said.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer was furious to hear about the work. He said he had spoken to the National Grid about the Travel Ipswich project well over a year ago.

He said: “We had all the problems caused by their works in Fore Street and during that time I met their officials and told them all about Travel Ipswich and told them to make sure any future works were co-ordinated with them.

“For them to now turn around and say they need to do this work after the road has been rebuilt is not good enough.

“They should put off replacing that main for several years to give the people of that part of town a rest.

“I shall also be speaking to ministers about taking action to ensure that utilities like National Grid co-ordinate their actions.”