Suffolk looks to the future - but don't plan to get there by bus!

Ipswich Cornhill

Can Ipswich town centre thrive again after lockdown with more people living nearby? - Credit: Charlotte Bond

We've had two major pieces of news this week with people looking to the future of a post-Covid world for Ipswich - and other communities as well.

The publication of the Ipswich Vision Board's "Connected Ipswich" document was a very well-structured argument for why the town, especially the town centre, had to change and become a place for people to live as well as visit for work or leisure.

To be fair there were no blindingly original concepts in this document. I seem to have been writing about the principle of getting more people to live in Ipswich town centre for the best part of a decade - but this time there are specific proposals about how that could be achieved.

And, very importantly, there is £25m to give the idea a bit of a nudge from the Towns' Deal Fund.

The idea of living in the heart of the town may not appeal to everyone. Many of us couldn't bear to live without a private garden. But there is demand for this kind of lifestyle - and the return of restaurants, bars and cafes later this year should give it a boost.

One slight issue that those promoting this lifestyle need to be aware of is the cultural difference between the "old residents" and the new incomers. 

I've seen several quite reasonable comments on social media from people who live in flats near the town centre - but don't see that the "new money" attractions at the Waterfront have anything to do with them.

That is a divide that needs to be addressed - Ipswich town centre and Waterfront is compact enough for all residents to feel that they have a stake in the entire area.

Ark at Ipswich Waterfront

Ipswich Waterfront must be "owned" by everyone who lives in the town centre. - Credit: Paul Geater

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The other issue that came up this week was the government's proposal to "revolutionise" bus travel across the country with £3bn of public money.

That sounds a nice idea, but I'm still not really sure what they're proposing - and how any proposals would affect bus services in Suffolk.

I have to say I have very little confidence in Suffolk County Council's ability to do anything to improve bus services in Ipswich or anywhere else. It's a subject that just doesn't interest the administration (unless a few constituents write to them about the cancellation of a bus stop).

Ipswich Buses general manager Steve Bryce hit the nail on the head when he said Suffolk was 20 years behind other councils when it came to bus policy - in Colchester, Norwich and Cambridge the respective county councils have set up schemes where tickets can be shared between companies making life easier for passengers.

Ipswich Bus

Suffolk County Council does not do enough to make life easy for bus passengers - Credit: Ipswich Buses

Over the years I've done several stories about why Ipswich bus passengers don't have this flexibility. I've never had a satisfactory reply from the council - it's an issue that appears to have been forgotten in the "More trouble than it's worth" section of the filing cabinet.

And Ipswich's Park and Ride service has become a shadow of its former self when it does operate - having been pared back to skeleton service that has limited attraction to motorists in a bid to ensure the council doesn't have to subsidise it.

The fact is that in a single council department that is responsible for roads, rural affairs (which is a pretty all-encompassing subject in a place like Suffolk) and public transport, buses are seen as pretty small beer.

After all they're a lot less sexy than trains (yes, I admit it) and let's be honest they tend to be only used by those who don't have a choice of how to travel.

If you've got access to a car in Framlingham are you going by bus (45 minute journey up to two hours apart) or drive there in 30 minutes and have the flexibility to make the journey whenever you want?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in bus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was very keen to take part in the launch of the bus strategy - but it's still not clear what it will mean to the public as a whole. - Credit: PA

As I said, I still have no real idea how the government's new bus strategy will play out and what difference it will really make to passengers across the country.

What I am pretty sure of is that Suffolk will be lagging far behind other parts of the UK when any changes are introduced and that buses will be a subject that councillors nod earnestly about when asked by voters at election time - and then rapidly forget about once votes are cast!

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