New free bus is welcomed - but is it right for the town of Ipswich as a whole?
PUBLISHED: 06:32 03 August 2017
Ipswich council's decision to fully-fund the town centre free shuttle bus running between Russell Road and the town centre for three hours a day over the lunchtime period has clearly gone down well with many.
It is well-used – that’s never been a problem with the service, even when the county paid for it – it brings people into the town centre spending money in its shops, and it provides employment for driver for three hours of the day.
It doesn’t cost council taxpayers a penny and everyone gains, don’t they?
I’m not so sure and there are a few things about this service that leave me feeling a bit uneasy.
Firstly, it isn’t green in any respect. When I first heard that environmental arguments were being used to justify it, I nearly choked. I cannot think of a less green initiative!
Buses can be a green alternative. If a bus putting diesel fumes into the air encourages 20 people to leave their cars at home and share the pollution, then that is very green.
But this bus doesn’t do that. It pours diesel fumes into the air – but would anyone who uses it otherwise drive from Endeavour House or the Grafton House into the town centre? I don’t think so. It doesn’t take any cars off the road, adding to congestion.
Then there’s the issue about how good is the service for the people who use it.
If you use the bus to take you from Russell Road to the town centre and back the round trip is 15 minutes. If you walk from Russell Road to the Cornhill it’s 10 minutes. That means the total time taken is 20 minutes.
But that supposes you walk straight on to the bus at both ends without having to wait for it arrive – and remember you still have to walk from one of the bus stations or Upper Brook Street to get where you want to be in the town centre.
I’m not at all sure about the time-saving in all this.
Then there’s the question of health and fitness.
Why would anyone who sits at a desk in a council office or court building all day then want to sit in a bus to take them into the town when they could stretch their legs and get their muscles working?
I know there are some people with medical conditions that makes this impossible, but the vast majority of users are healthy and could easily walk. I’m sure they’d feel much better for it.
We’ve had so many stories about obesity and lack of exercise causing health problems later in life, that I feel people really should start to embrace simple everyday exercise like a 10-minute walk into town into their daily lives.
Having said all this, I accept the service is popular. It probably will be good for the businesses in the town centre.
And as I said at the top, I have no doubt that this was a popular move with many people – and in a democracy politicians should do what people want.
One thing that the Labour administration did get spot on last week was its debate over increasing its spending limit on new investments.
I did have to pinch myself slightly when I heard that the Labour council was doing what the Conservative local government secretary Sajid Javid was advising and looking to invest its money to make more money in the future.
At the same time the Conservative opposition councillors were saying how dangerous this might be and that everyone should listen to the Labour chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier and stop making these investments.
So we had a Labour council doing what a Tory government wanted and a Conservative opposition urging them to listen to Labour MP. You couldn’t make it up!
I was a little worried when I heard one Tory councillor claiming “all investment is gambling”. Right there’s the perfect excuse to do nothing but shove your cash under the mattress!
And the Tory warnings might have been a bit more credible if they weren’t undermined by two factors:
Labour administrations in Ipswich have a pretty good record on investing money, be it in new housing estates, business premises or offices.
And the only time Ipswich Borough Council came anywhere near getting into trouble with its investments (and to be fair, it eventually sorted things out satisfactorily) was during the Icelandic banking crisis of 2008/9. And who was in charge then? The Conservative/LibDem alliance that ran the council from 2004-11.