The great Ipswich debate

IPSWICH Waterfront is the jewel in the town's crown, but as work gathers pace to transform the area, traffic problems are being flagged up.People in the East want the traffic to go West, while those in the West want it to go East.

By Paul Geater

IPSWICH Waterfront is the jewel in the town's crown, but as work gathers pace to transform the area, traffic problems are being flagged up.

People in the East want the traffic to go West, while those in the West want it to go East.

How can the Waterfront be absorbed into the town, and not become just a posh ghetto like London Docklands?

In the first of a major series of features charting the traffic dilemma at the heart of our county town, Political Editor PAUL GEATER sets the scene and opens the debate.

IPSWICH Waterfront is the crucible of the town.

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It's the past, the present and the future of Ipswich.

Ipswich exists today because of the River Orwell. It's the oldest English town - and it was founded here because Stoke Bridge was the highest point at which Anglo-Saxons could build a bridge across the River Orwell.

Once the bridge was built the settlement soon followed - the Anglo-Saxons soon realised that 10 miles up the River Orwell from the often rough north sea they could create a safe port.

The Waterfront is the oldest part of the town. As Ipswich expanded throughout the middle ages, the area prospered.

Many of the town's most historic churches - St Peters, St Mary at the Quay, and St Clements - are almost right on the quayside.

Centuries later the construction of the Victorian Wet Dock allowed vessels to work within the dock basin without concerns about tides.

Businesses that needed easy access to the port sprung up around the wet dock - maltings, grain storage, timber yards.

It may have been the historic heart of Ipswich, but the Wet Dock area was very much an industrial centre. And that's how it remained until the last quarter of the 20th century - and until then there was little thought given to the heritage of the area.

That is the root cause of many of today's problems.

Even as late as the 1980s a new two-carriageway road network was introduced around the docks, effectively driving a dual carriageway through cutting off the dockside buildings from the nearby town centre.

This was done to improve road access around the dock area - but not only did it cut off the Waterfront from the town centre, but it also put much more strain on those historic buildings that did remain there - the churches and Wolsey's Gate suffer daily from the noise and vibration caused by heavy lorries passing on both sides of them.

Ironically, just as the new road network was being opened, the first Waterfront conversion was underway as a former warehouse building was turned into offices for transport giant Contship.

That building was a talisman for the Waterfront redevelopment.

Progress was often slow, but within a few years the Waterfront saw its first pub, followed by restaurants, flats, and marinas.

Now the development has reached a 'critical mass.' There is development work at many different areas around the wet dock and now work is about to start on two critical projects.

The former Cranfields Mill site is to be the home of a 23-storey block of flats and offices with a dance studio below.

And there are also plans for a mixed development on the site of the former Pauls Maltings. All these will help to give the Waterfront a boost.

But without some radical planning solutions, the Waterfront development will never be integrated with the rest of the town.

As long as a dual carriageway separates it from the town centre, shoppers are not going to stroll down to the dock area for a coffee after doing their shopping in Debenhams.

Even more worryingly residents of the new flats - who are likely to be new to the area because their prices are too high for most local homebuyers - won't wander into town for their shopping.

They'll just leap into their cars to pop out to the local superstore - or they'll eat out at the restaurants and bistros that are opening up around the Waterfront without going into town.

It isn't just the presence of the dual carriageway that prevents the town and waterfront from getting together.

There are also few north-south links in the town centre which is built very much along the east-west axis of the “golden mile” from Major's Corner to the St Matthew's Roundabout.

A proposal to develop a shopping centre between Dogs Head Street and Star Lane which would have linked the town and the Waterfront was effectively lost when Ipswich council gave the go-ahead for new flats to be built in the middle of the site.

They've now been completed and it is inconceivable that they could now be knocked down to make way for a shopping centre.

But the lack of shops and visitor attractions between the town centre and Waterfront will help to maintain the sense of isolation between the two areas.

The Evening Star's offices are only a handful from the Waterfront, but staff from here very rarely walk in that direction - during lunch breaks many people head towards the town centre and Sainsburys but you people only tend to head in the other direction for work.

WHEN the Orwell Bridge opened in 1982, it was seen as the answer to Ipswich's traffic problems.

Traffic going past Ipswich would no longer need to go through the town itself - and those vehicles going into Ipswich could use the exit nearest their final destination.

But no new roads were built directly from the east bank terminals of Ipswich dock to the new A14 - when first proposed there would have been no junction on to the road between the Wherstead interchange and Seven Hills near Bucklesham.

Pressure on the government, which built the new by-pass, led to the construction of the Nacton junction - but there was no direct link between this and the east bank terminals of Ipswich docks.

While that now seems like a big mistake, at the time the port was not as busy as it is now and there was no indication of how it would take off under new owners ABP 15 years later.

New road systems were created in the town centre to act as distibutors to the new by-pass, including the Star Lane/Fore Street area.

The east bank terminals handle bulk goods - especially grain, animal feed, and fertiliser.

The area is also home to oil terminals used by vehicles distributing fuel to garages and business across the region.

All these lorries either have to go around the Star Lane system or along Landseer Road before they can reach the A14 road that was designed to take them away from the town.

A direct link from the east bank of Ipswich port to the A14 would take some lorries, those for the cliff quay area of the town, directly away.

But many other lorry journeys that blight the area are not port related - and they would have to come into the town centre and the Waterfront area whatever new roads were built.

They come in to service the shops and other businesses. They have to come in carrying building materials for new projects that are springing up all the time.

Traffic that has the town centre as its destination cannot be moved away from Ipswich.

A KEY element in the development of the Waterfront site is the prospect of Ipswich having its own university by the end of the decade.

This will be based on the current Suffolk College site with new development on the Waterfront.

The university development would also allow a new road to be built linking the end of Star Lane with the Duke Street roundabout - allowing Fore Street to be completely cleared of most traffic.

SINCE 1988 there have been three major studies looking into roads and general planning issues in Ipswich - largely focussing on the Waterfront area.

The 1988 Halcrow Fox report, compiled by consultant engineers, looked at the town's road network and how it related to the still new Ipswich by-pass and Orwell Bridge.

This recommended the construction of three major new roads - the east bank link, a new bridge across the river and wet dock lock, and the construction of a new northern by-pass for Ipswich.

It also suggested the creation of park and ride schemes and the introduction of bus lanes - which have been implemented.

In the early 1990s a new report by consultants Llewellyn Davies looked at traffic flows around the Waterfront area.

That recommended the creation of the “green route” with two-way traffic using Star Lane and the College Street, Key Street, Salthouse Street route only used by buses and cyclists.

Last year a further report was commissioned from consultants Urban Initiatives and GVA Grimley which looked at the whole area between the Wet Dock lock gates and the Yarmouth Road bridge, including all the town centre, waterfront, and Ipswich Village area.

This suggested new road networks in the Princes Street area - but no radical new routes around the waterfront.

Tomorrow: We investigate the thorny difficulties which make an east bank link so controversial.

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What do you think Ipswich and the Waterfront need for the future?

It's an issue what we'll be looking at all this week, and we'd like your views included.

Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN.

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