Ipswich car parks ‘not good enough’ for smart signs

David Ellesmere in Crown Car Park

David Ellesmere in Crown Car Park

A major town against county row has blown up in Ipswich - the third in just a few months.

The latest fall-out came when a county council official told Ipswich borough that its car parks weren’t good enough for new electronic signs.

This spat follows a row about new entrance signs for the town, and a disagreement over the hoped-for multi-million pound revamp for the Cornhill in Ipswich.

There is a growing feeling that the lack of unity between the Tory-led county council and Labour-controlled borough council is holding back much-needed improvements in Ipswich. Ironically, the two councils have their HQs on opposite sides of the same road.

When the Conservatives unveiled their proposals for a “parking revolution” in Ipswich last month, county council leader Mark Bee said his authority could consider installing electronic signs showing where spaces existed – similar to those in Bury St Edmunds – in the future.

However, in a letter from senior highways official Dave Watson to Labour transport spokeswoman Sandra Gage it was made clear that the county did not feel that Ipswich’s car parking was good enough for such signs – and pointed the finger clearly at the borough’s planning policies.

Mr. Watson’s letter says: “It was clear that the scattered nature of car parking in the town, including many spaces in temporary car parks approved by the borough council on vacant lots, made it difficult to provide a sensible integrated signing system.

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“Our traffic control system is capable of supporting a car park signing system should operators wish to collaborate to provide funding for one in the future.

“In addition to on street displays, operators would need to install equipment to collect, process and forward data about entries and exits. This is probably only going to worthwhile for operators with larger car parks.”

The county will be putting up electronic signs for people approaching the town to warn them of problems on the roads but it dropped plans to include car parking information in a bid to save money on Travel Ipswich.

Many of the Ipswich town centre car parks are run by commercial operators, such as the Buttermarket Centre, the Foundation Street multi-storey and the Civic Drive spiral parks.

However, borough council leader David Ellesmere said that the necessary technology to send information to the signs would be included in the rebuilt Crown Car Park which is due to be completed by Christmas 2016.

He was very irritated by the county’s reaction, and felt it showed a lack of interest in attracting visitors to Ipswich town centre.

He said: “There are some major car parks in Ipswich and I am sure companies like NCP and the Buttermarket would consider installing the necessary equipment to attract new users to their car parks.”

County cabinet member Graham Newman said that the electronic system would be capable of being upgraded in the future to carry messages about car parking – but a spokesman for the council said this would require new signs to be put up as part of a network that would have to be funded by car park operators.

The latest county v borough row comes just weeks after a major survey conducted by the Ipswich Star revealed that, of the 1,100 people who responded, only one in five did most of their Christmas shopping in Ipswich, while 80 per cent felt that travel in the town had become more difficult in the last year.