Ipswich Orwell Bridge closures will ‘rapidly reduce’ in 2021, says Government
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
The Government has said it is confident that regular Orwell Bridge closures in high winds will rapidly be cut back in 2021 – with a reduction in closures by as much as 80% anticipated.
During an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Thursday evening specifically on the bridge, Minister for State Andrew Stephenson recognised the closures “can and do cause havoc in the surrounding Ipswich roads,” and the government “has been pressing for the situation to be resolved”.
He said: “The closures that have blighted the Orwell Bridge and caused gridlock on the route and around Ipswich will be significantly reduced.
MORE: Ipswich MP secures Parliament debate on Orwell Bridge closures“Indeed, I am pleased to say that as a result of its work, Highways England expects to reduce the number of closures by as much as 80%.
“The work of Highways England has been instrumental in getting us to a point where it will be possible to keep the Orwell Bridge open in higher winds than has been the case in the past.
“The 20 closures since 2013 have been a real problem for the local community, causing gridlock on surrounding roads.
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“I am pleased that with the recent publication of the permanent traffic regulation order and signals that an end is in sight.”
He added: “More work is yet to be done, however with the design and preparation works as well as the delivery of the signs expected in January, I am confident that [Ipswich] will rapidly see a huge reduction in the number of times the Orwell Bridge is closed to traffic in the future.”
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The debate was brought forward by Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who said it was the “number one transport issue” for the town, and called for greater urgency on Highways England to deliver the solutions to bridge closures in high winds.
It had pledged to have a 40mph speed limit in place by the start of this winter so that the threshold for a bridge closure would be 70mph and not the current 50mph winds.
But that has been delayed and is now expected at the end of March 2021.
Local figures from Ipswich Central suggests each closure costs the town’s economy £1million per day.
Mr Hunt said the transport ministers had pledged to lean on Highways England for improvements before the end of March, and with Highways England it “felt like they haven’t been accountable” for delays.
MORE: The long-awaited plan to keep the Orwell Bridge open in high windsHe added: “I am very disappointed we are in this position and we are where we are at the moment.
“But I will continue pushing for any improvement on the end of March [timescale], I would like to see the end of January or February.
“At a time when we are looking to recover post-Covid and looking to recover from the economic hit, the last thing we want is the closure of the Orwell Bridge as an added handicap, and I fear it could be.
“If we can get it done by late January or early February that could be a couple of closures we avoid. It matters.”
Mr Hunt also pledged to keep the issue as a standing item on the agenda for the Ipswich Transport Task Group – a group featuring town leaders to come up with solutions with key traffic problems in the town – even after the measures had been introduced, as it is important to make sure they work.