The great Ipswich debate -Part 3

WOULD a bridge over the Wet Dock and New Cut help keep traffic away from the Waterfront area of Ipswich? In the third of our series about the strains caused by increasing traffic, political editor PAUL GEATER looks at how the port affects the flow around the Waterfront - and whether a bridge would help ease the problems.

By Paul Geater

WOULD a bridge over the Wet Dock and New Cut help keep traffic away from the Waterfront area of Ipswich? In the third of our series about the strains caused by increasing traffic, political editor PAUL GEATER looks at how the port affects the flow around the Waterfront - and whether a bridge would help ease the problems.

IPSWICH port is a powerhouse of the region's economy.

It brings employment to the area but it also brings problems, because of the heavy lorries that are needed to service it.

And the port has 'moved' downstream. Over the last 50 years the emphasis of the dock has moved from the historic wet dock and waterfront area further down the Orwell with large quays being developed on both the east and west banks of the river.

It is the east bank quays, especially Cliff Quay, which generate traffic problems and prove a major headache for anyone trying to ease the town's congestion problems. The east bank handles most of the port's bulk cargoes, and is home to the Ipswich grain terminal.

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It handles aggregates, fertiliser, and also has a direct link with the Vopak fuel distribution depot.

At present the east bank of the port accounts for about two thirds of the business - and it has expanded rapidly over the last 10 years.

Since Associated British Ports took over in 1997, the amount of business passing through the docks has doubled - and initially most of that expansion happened on the east side, pushing more traffic on to the nearby roads.

Over the last four years, however, there has been a major expansion on the other side of the river, at the West Bank Terminal.

This terminal was built in the 1970s for freight ferries, but by the mid-1990s this business was moribund, the regular ferry service was withdrawn.

In 2000, however, new company Ferryways re-introduced a freight ferry service from Ipswich.

This is continuing to expand, and the west bank terminal is currently being expanded so it can handle many more sailings every week.

The West Bank Terminal has a major advantage - lorries can drive almost straight on to the A14, its entrance is at Bourne Bridge just at the bottom of Wherstead Hill.

As well as ferries, the West Bank also handles timber shipments to the port.

Ipswich port bosses estimate that within a few years the West Bank will be handling as much business as the east - and without causing the same level of traffic problems.

ONE possible solution taking traffic away from the congested roads around the Waterfront is a bridge across the wet dock lock gates and new cut.

This would be a very complex - and expensive - engineering project, but it would allow traffic to cross the Orwell without having to negotiate the historic waterfront area.

A system of three swing bridges would be needed.

It would be necessary to have two separate bridges running parallel to each other over the lock gates. This is because it takes half an hour for a vessel to pass through the lock gates and it would not be practical to old traffic up by more than half an hour every time a vessel wanted to get in or out of the Wet Dock.

By having two bridges, one over each gate, the traffic could switch from one to the other when the lock was in use.

There would also need to be a swing bridge over the new cut because this remains a navigable waterway as far as Stoke Bridge.

How much port traffic such a 'diamond' bridge would handle is unclear - much of the east bank traffic is heading east along the A14 and A12 to the north east of the county and towards Lowestoft.

However it would certainly ease some of the cross-town east-west traffic that currently snares up the Star Lane area.

The big problem is the cost of the project - estimated by transport planners at the county hall at about £95 million. That makes it too big for the county to bid for from the government under the Local Transport Plan process which is the normal way of attracting funds.

A possible solution could be to try to place a levy on developers to pay towards it as a condition of granting planning permission.

However this is a very large sum to raise in that way - and could well lead to legal action because many developers have already been given planning permission without such a condition.

The government is unlikely to see such a road as being a major project - they tend to be large strategic projects such as the Orwell Bridge itself.

A new bridge over the Wet Dock would be primarily for local traffic, and to ease congestion within Ipswich.

Where there could be some funding - although it's unlikely to be enough for the whole project - is from regional bodies like the East of England Development Agency to help with the regeneration of the Waterfront area.

With a sizeable grant from here, help from developers and perhaps a smaller grant from central government, it might be possible to build a new link across the Wet Dock entrance - but it could be ten years or more away.

IPSWICH port manager Robert Smith is very proud of the way the port has developed since it was privatised in 1997.

Since it was taken over by Associated British Ports (ABP), business going through its gates has doubled.

There has been considerable investment on the east bank, with the opening of new warehouses, including the new Ipswich Grain Terminal.

But it has been on the West Bank - with its good links to the A14 - that the most spectacular development has happened.

The port lost its freight ferry link with Rotterdam in 1995, two years before privatisation, but a new link was established by Ferryways which runs ferries to Ostend in Belgium in 2000.

Since it was established, the Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) link has expanded significantly, and Ferryways has now signed a 20-year deal with the port of Ipswich.

This in turn has prompted ABP to invest more than £6 million in expanding the West Bank terminal - including a new 150-metre quay wall.

Mr Smith said: “This is very good news for the port. Ferryways like the position in Ipswich and so far as they are concerned it is better to be a major operator in a port like Ipswich than a small player somewhere like Felixstowe.

“At the present time about two thirds of the port's work goes through the east bank terminals - and that is still expanding with the preparation of the ashtip site going ahead.

“But the work on the West Bank is significant - and I would hope that once the terminal there is expanded we will be seeing the two sides handling about the same amount of work.”

Mr Smith said the port supported the idea of an east bank link, adding: “It would cut about 10 minutes off the journey time, which would be a help because much of what we are dealing with here is low-value bulk goods not going that far from the port.

“But the extra time isn't crucial so far as the port is concerned - where the road would make a difference is with the people living on Landseer and Nacton Roads.”.

Ipswich port would not be opposed to the proposal to put new roads across the wet dock lock gates and New Cut.

He added: “But we would have to make sure that they did not affect navigation.”

n Tomorrow: How the traffic difficulties could cause problems for the Waterfront development, and proposals to deal with them.

n 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.