IPSWICH northern bypass: The 'threat' that's haunted villages for more than 30 years
PUBLISHED: 19:21 19 August 2019 | UPDATED: 00:17 21 August 2019
Protest banners are up, opposing an Ipswich northern route. Echoes from 30 years ago, when a similar battle was fought, can still be heard
The saga of an Ipswich northern bypass has long been a festering sore. Many people, though, might be surprised about just how long. For, three decades ago, the notion of a new road slicing through the Suffolk countryside returned to haunt villagers living near its possible path.
Dreams of a languid summer were shattered in August, 1989, by items of news on consecutive days.
First came a plan to build a new airport on farmland at Akenham, a few miles north of Ipswich. It was seen as a replacement for the town's airport in Nacton Road, which Ipswich council sought to close.
The following day came word that campaigners were pressing for a northern bypass. They said it was essential to stop Ipswich being clogged by vehicles.
'The only solution'
The northern bypass campaign group was spearheaded by leading Conservative councillors and backed by Ipswich MP Michael Irvine.
They argued that the town's southern bypass was becoming "severely congested", with more and more vehicles now resorting to the former ring road in order to beat jams.
The thousands of new homes on the drawing-board, plus the industrial developments that would be part of the mix, made the case for a new road irresistible, they asserted.
Projects in the pipeline, or already going ahead, included:
* 4,000 homes at Grange Farm, Kesgrave
* 1,320 new homes at Bixley Farm, to the east of Ipswich
* Housing for more than 1,000 people at Warren Heath
* And that possible new airport off the road to Henley.
MP Mr Irvine said local traffic conditions were "becoming intolerable".
He explained: "What particularly concerns me is the planned construction of the Kesgrave bypass and the traffic estimates which were put forward at the same time as it was announced."
All the extra traffic heading from the east would, argued the MP, end up at the Heath Road roundabout in Ipswich. "The question is, where does it go after that?"
Reg Driver, leader of the borough council's Conservative group, didn't think an airport at Akenham would happen. He felt it would face the same kind of obstacles as another site being suggested: at Mendlesham.
"But if a new airport is going to be built," he told me, "then the only place it could be built is to the north of the town." A northern bypass was the only solution to traffic problems.
'Bit of a surprise'
It wasn't long before doubt was cast over the need for a major new road to the north.
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"It frankly came as a bit of a surprise to hear that anyone thought that bit of road was needed," said a spokesman for the British Road Federation.
"We feel there are more important things to do in East Anglia - more urgent things, like improving the A12 up to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, and improving the A140."
A Suffolk County Council spokesman said the idea of a northern route had not recently been talked about by members.
"The issue of a northern bypass was discussed at a public inquiry in 1977, when the views of the county council were in favour of a southern route crossing the Orwell, because this dealt with more traffic than a northern bypass."
Edmund King, now president of the AA but then director of pressure group East Anglia Roads to Prosperity, told me in 1989: "The general impression I have got from talking to people involved with Felixstowe and the east coast ports is that the southern bypass is a fairly decent route.
"Obviously, any bypass that relieves some residents brings environmental benefits, but I think a lot of studies have to be done to see if the scale of those benefits is justified."
There was some support for the campaign.
A spokesman for Ipswich Chamber of Commerce said any new road that speeded the flow of traffic in the area would be welcomed.
"Funnily enough, we had a market researcher from the Department of the Environment in here this week, carrying out some work for a general economic review, and he was asking about any traffic jams we suffered.
"I suppose we have been quite lucky in that the traffic jams are not all that serious, though the congestion on the bypasses can sometimes cause considerable delays.
"Ipswich is expanding now, with a low rate of unemployment and a number of major building schemes in the pipeline, and more building naturally brings more cars.
"Any new road that would reduce the frustration felt by drivers would be welcomed."
The road, though, was never built.
A number of closures of the Orwell Bridge (which pushed traffic through Ipswich), along with more house-building (completed and planned), has put a northern bypass back on the agenda. Firmly.
In fact, it's a bit more advanced than that, with a public consultation exercise having begun on July 5 and running until September 13.
The possible new road isn't called a bypass any longer but the Ipswich Northern Route. Residents are asked to comment on three potential options linking the A12 and A14:
* An "inner corridor" between Martlesham and Claydon
* A road from Woodbridge to Claydon
* A route from Melton, near Woodbridge, to the A140 near Needham Market.
The consultation is run by Suffolk County Council, district councils Babergh, Mid Suffolk and East Suffolk, and Ipswich Borough Council.
The Ipswich Northern Route website states: "We want to deliver better, more reliable journeys for people travelling across Suffolk. We also want to help to enable Suffolk's growth prospects and support our growing population and economy."
Earlier this summer a Campaign Against the Ipswich Northern Bypass group was formed, with the backing of parish councillors from about 20 villages.
Co-founder Nick Deacon said: "If a road of this type were to go ahead, the countryside to the north of Ipswich would be ruined forever and quickly built over with substantial house-building, bringing with it thousands more cars and simply adding to the problem of congestion in and around Ipswich."