Upper Orwell Crossing plan to be dropped – after millions already spent on Ipswich project
PUBLISHED: 16:48 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 19:23 21 January 2019
Proposals to build three new bridges across the River Orwell in Ipswich to help ease congestion in the town centre are set to be formally abandoned next week – leaving more than £8m spent with nothing to show for it.
Suffolk County council hopes to go ahead with promoting two small bridges linking the “Island Site” to the east and west banks of the river – but accepts that the largest bridge, carrying traffic over the river to avoid the notorious roads near the Waterfront, will never be built.
The council has already spent £8.3m on the project on surveys and public consultation exercises. A further £10.8m that was part of the county’s contribution to the original scheme will now be ring-fenced to be put towards the smaller scheme.
When first proposed in 2015 the costs of the scheme were estimated at £96.6m. That was made up of £77.5m from the government and £19.1m from the county council. However, a new investigation of the costs showed that it now stood at £139.8m.
The government said it would not increase its contribution – forcing the county to either find the extra £43.2m or pull the plug.
The county’s cabinet will now be asked to vote to pull the plug on the project at its meeting next Tuesday.
Council leader Matthew Hicks said: “Suffolk County Council remains fully committed to the future development and continued success of our county town.
“To reiterate this commitment, we are still prepared to commit financially towards the costs of building the two smaller bridges, providing we can find significant funding partners to work with us.
He added: “It is very disappointing that we have been unable to secure any additional funding for the Upper Orwell Crossings and that the existing project will have to stop with immediate effect. We have exhausted all funding opportunities including The Department for Transport, HM Treasury, local businesses and other stakeholders.”
The county is talking to port owner ABP, which owns the Island Site, and to Ipswich council about bringing forward a scheme to develop the area and build two smaller bridges across the New Cut and a pedestrian/cycle bridge over the lock gates.
Mr Hicks said the £10.8m would be targeted at developing the Island Site which was planned to be a new “enterprise island” under the original Upper Orwell Crossing project.
His cabinet colleague Paul West said there had already been productive meetings with ABP and the borough, and was hopeful there would be rapid progress with the smaller project.
However Ipswich Central said the money should only be ring-fenced for the Island Site for a specified time – there has been talk of developing this area of Ipswich since the early 1980s and only limited work has so far been completed.
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter said: “We have been in detailed discussions with senior representatives of the county council since it emerged that the most likely outcome was the undeliverability of the Upper Orwell Crossings.
“We very much regret this outcome. We have been urging that the county maintains its underwritten financial commitment to Ipswich, though now to the principle of connections to enable a comprehensive redevelopment of the Island site.
“If, within a time-limited period, this cannot be progressed, we have urged the county to transfer its financial commitment to an alternative town centre project, to be prioritised by the Ipswich Vision Board.
“Our town centre needs an equal measure of continued improvement and certainty, and we will play our part.”
Ipswich Labour MP Sandy Martin said he was glad that the original scheme was being dropped – and even more pleased that the council had agreed to help fund the two smaller bridges.
He said: “I am pleased I was able to speak to Matthew Hicks and we were able to have productive discussions on this. I urged him to retain the remaining money to help develop the Island Site and I am sure that there can be good talks leading to its development.”
The Leader of the Labour Group at Suffolk County Council, Sarah Adams, Labour Group Leader, believed that, although the council came to the right decision eventually, it underlined their inability to focus on the right infrastructure projects.
She said; “It is welcome that we finally have a resolution to this saga with the construction of the two smaller bridges continuing the regeneration of Ipswich’s wonderful waterfront.
“However, it is hard to get away from the fact that Suffolk County Council has wasted four years trying to deliver a vanity project on behalf of someone who is no longer in office.
“It was always clear that ‘Ben (Gummer)’s Bridge’ would have solved none of the transport needs for our town and it’s really disappointing that Ipswich’s residents were repeatedly ignored when they were telling the council ‘we don’t want this’.
“Mr Hicks has had nine months to end this farce, but he has dithered whilst more money was wasted trying to make up an impossible £43m shortfall for this white elephant.”
John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Chamber appreciates the motivation behind this review of the Upper Orwell Crossings: after all businesses have a vested interest in ensuring that publicly-funded projects always represent good value for money.
“Recalling the general support from most of the businesses we have spoken with about this project, we are, however, disappointed, but not surprised about this news.
“Suffolk Chamber is pleased, though, to read about Suffolk County Council’s commitment to underwriting the building of bridges B and C to a maximum of £10.8m as it demonstrates their ongoing commitment to Ipswich’s waterfront regeneration. “We look forward to a purposeful dialogue between all relevant partners. We are very much on hand to help to assist in any way we can.”
The leader of the Green, LibDem and Independent group at the county, Andrew Stringer, said: “We welcome the chance to have a rethink of this proposal. There has to be a more sustainable solution to the Ipswich crossings issue – the £10.8m allotted to this should be used for a sustainable transport revolution in Ipswich.”