New Ipswich northern bypass gets closer – but will plans make drivers happy?

Possible sites in Suffolk for the proposed Northern by-pass.
Lower Road,Westerfield.

Possible sites in Suffolk for the proposed Northern by-pass. Lower Road,Westerfield. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

I am becoming increasingly confident that Ipswich will be getting a new northern bypass – and that it could take much less than the 15 years suggested to see work under way on the project.

Possible routes for the northern by-pass.

Possible routes for the northern by-pass. - Credit: Archant

However I’m not sure that all of those who have been advocating the project for years will be ecstatic when they see the final plans because the road may not be able to meet their high expectations.

Because I cannot see that an Ipswich northern bypass when it is built (and I am saying when, not if) is going to resemble in any way the current bypass on the southern side of the town.

I don’t see a northern bypass finishing the Ipswich “box” of fast dual carriageways around the town with traffic whizzing along a dual carriageway at 70mph and no junctions to slow it down from Martlesham to the A14 at Claydon.

The kind of road being talked about by Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Council, the government, and developers behind the northern fringe (or Ipswich Garden Suburb) is a very different beast.

It is wide, reasonably fast, urban road that will provide a good route for traffic heading from east Suffolk to the A14 west – but whose main job will be to make it easier for traffic heading to and from the new communities that will be developed to the north of the town.

It may well be a dual carriageway for all or part of its route – but it will almost certainly have a 50mph or 40mph speed limit. It will be more like London Road than the A14 to the south of Ipswich.

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There will be junctions – probably roundabouts – with Henley Road, Westerfield Road, Tuddenham Road, Rushmere Road and Playford Road. That will also keep the traffic speed down.

There is a reason why those working on the road don’t use the word “bypass” but call it the Ipswich Northern Relief Road.

That will not please some potential road users – but the fact is that is the only way the road is going to be built and a good-quality A road across the top of the town will ease many of the road pressures affecting that part of Ipswich.

It might be nice in theory to have another fast dual carriageway to the north of the town, but such a road would not make economic sense to The Treasury. It wouldn’t free up more land for development. And it would not bring a clear economic gain to the town.

Because like it or not, money is what talks when making these decisions. If a £200m by-pass enables the development of the Ipswich Garden Suburb that brings £1bn into the local economy over a few years, then that is good value.

If there isn’t any new development the Treasury would see that £200m as being poured down the drain. It would not be built.

It might sound crude, but the government has to have some way of judging one scheme against another across the whole country (and every community thinks THEIR project is the most important in the world) and this is how it’s done.

The Upper Orwell Crossing project has already been through that process and the government has concluded that the value it would add to town with the development of the island site and relieved congestion around Star Lane is so high that it is viable.

The statements from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid last week about road spending will give supporters real hope for government money for a new northern bypass (or whatever you call it).

And their interventions could speed up the process for the Ipswich road and similar schemes across the country in a bid to boost the number of new homes to be built.

Of course a major issue that will still have to be addressed is the opposition that is likely to re-emerge to the scheme as routes are actually considered – although a road aimed at easing traffic around the north of Ipswich is likely to prove less controversial than a full-sized dual carriageway further north would have been.

But back in the 1990s the opposition was fierce. It has not gone away. There will still be angry voices from people who fear that their quiet lives will be shattered by a new A road – however large it is.

They will have to be heard. They will have to feel that their concerns have not been ignored even if they do lose out because of the need for the new road. But the new northern bypass is coming – and drivers need to know what to expect when it finally arrives, hopefully within the next decade.