The great Ipswich debate -part 2

COULD the answer to Ipswich's traffic problems lie in Eastern promise? In the second part of this week's series looking at traffic options for Ipswich, political editor PAUL GEATER investigates the thorny difficulties which make an east bank link so controversial.

By Paul Geater

COULD the answer to Ipswich's traffic problems lie in Eastern promise? In the second part of this week's series looking at traffic options for Ipswich, political editor PAUL GEATER investigates the thorny difficulties which make an east bank link so controversial.

A QUICK look at the map and the solution to the traffic problems in east Ipswich seems obvious - a direct link from the Cliff Quay port terminal to the A14 just east of the Orwell Bridge.

However there are massive environmental and practical problems with such a proposal - problems which may ultimately make it totally impossible to construct.

Environmentally, the road would have a devastating effect on some of Ipswich's last remaining virgin woodland.

Although the latest proposal would not have the road passing through Piper's Vale, it would pass so close to this woodland leading to the Nacton foreshore that would have a massive impact on the nature there. It would also cut off Piper's Vale from the rest of the Orwell Country Park - although its promoters do envisage building a footbridge over the new road.

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Apart from Piper's Vale, the road would also have a serious impact on Brazier's Wood beside the new Ravenswood development - and the junction with the A14 would be right beside Bridge Wood.

It would also pass through some former allotments at the bottom of Morland Road which have now be designated as a local nature reserve.

As well as the environmental problems, there are also difficulties with creating a new junction on to the A14.

Because of the height of the road coming off the Orwell Bridge and the closeness of the Nacton junction, a new interchange on the site of the Little Chef café would have to be created.

There would also have to be new lanes added to the A14 between this junction and the Nacton interchange less than a mile away.

The road would take traffic away from Landseer Road and Nacton Road, but it would be noisy for residents who live in Morland Road who currently look out on a nature reserve from the back windows of their homes.

AN East Bank Link Road was first proposed in the Halcrow Fox report into road links in Ipswich which was commissioned in 1988, when the Orwell Bridge was still new.

It was one of a number of major road improvements suggested in the study - and it was quickly adopted as the top priority by the then Conservative administration at county hall.

A furious local campaign of opposition soon started, and this quickly won the backing of the then-Labour administration at Civic Centre in Ipswich.

But the county council continued to back the road proposal and drew up plans for it.

However the elections of 1993 saw a Labour/Liberal Democrat administration take over at county hall - and one of its first moves was to cancel the relief road.

Ipswich council marked this by incorporating the threatened Piper's Vale into its new Orwell Country Park and encouraging more people to visit the beauty spot.

The threat seemed to have passed - but then in 2000 a new proposal to build a road emerged.

This was being promoted by property developer Samuel Beadie Ltd which wanted to build the road to provide access to a potential development site it owned.

It would also provide a direct link to the Cliff Quay terminal at Ipswich docks, taking traffic straight on to the A14.

Unlike the previous proposal, this would not have gone through Piper's Vale, but there was still widespread concern about the impact it would have on the area.

A planning application for the road and proposed retail park on the site of the former Volvo depot overlooking the Orwell was lodged with Ipswich council two years ago.

It has never been debated by the council, but with the change in administration at Civic Centre the application could now be reconsidered.

Certainly the promoters are confident that the wind is blowing in their direction - but before they would be prepared to build the road, they'd also need planning permission to build the retail park in east Ipswich.

That will be hugely controversial in its own right - there are fears that it would be near enough to the town centre to threaten retailers there.

And planners believe the retail park could draw more traffic over the Duke Street roundabout than the road would take away on to the A14.

Suffolk County Council decided this month not to bid for government money to build the link - although that decision would not affect the ability of a private company to pay for it.

The county claimed that the cost of the road would be £67 million. This is fiercely disputed by Samuel Beadie which estimates the cost at £12 to £17 million with a maximum of £20 million.

CLIVE Thompson is one of the men behind Samuel Beadie (Developments) Ltd - and he remains upbeat about the prospects for the Gainsborough Link road and its effect on Ipswich.

He said the developers had gone to great lengths to ease environmental concerns: “We're not talking here about the East Bank Relief Road. We're talking about the Gainsborough Link - it's completely different and addresses the environmental concerns.”

And he remains convinced that the new road, together with a retail park overlooking the River Orwell, will help to regenerate Ipswich.

“Ipswich has the opportunity to become a major destination for people over a wide area, but it needs to offer a bit more - and that's where our development will come in.

“There will be new retail opportunities on that site and a direct link to the town centre. People will be able to leave their cars at the retail park and catch the bus into the town centre,” he said.

And he felt such an addition to the town could draw in shoppers from further afield.

“Look at people from Chelmsford,” he said. “They go shopping at Lakeside or Bluewater, but with all the traffic problems on the M25 our research suggests they'd like the opportunity to come north up the A12.

“With a big new retail centre and quick links to the town centre, Ipswich really will have something to offer - and retail analysts have been recognising that,” Mr Thompson added.

WHILE a new road on the east bank of the Orwell might solve traffic problems for residents of Landseer Road and Nacton Road, the proposal has angered many environmental protesters.

Geoff Sinclair is a man with a mission. He helps run the “Save Orwell Country Park” campaign - and has no doubt that a new road would be a disaster.

“I know the promoters say it would not go through Piper's Vale itself, but it would go so close to it that it would change its character for ever,” he said.

“And even if it doesn't touch the Vale itself, it would certainly pass through the Piper's Vale local nature reserve.

“That would be a disaster for local wildlife in itself - and apart from anything else the road would destroy the character of a very peaceful part of the town.”

Mr Sinclair said another damaging effect of the road would be to sever Piper's Vale from the rest of the Orwell Country Park.

“A key element of the park is that wildlife can move from one part of it to the other - it forms part of a wildlife corridor.

“If you put a road through that you will make it far more difficult for wildlife to pass from one area to another, and that will seriously damage the wildlife of the park as a whole,” he said.

The campaigners are also concerned that the construction of the road would inevitably eventually lead to the “urbanisation” of the whole area.

“At the moment the homes in Morland Road have views across the river. If you get a new road there, it's inevitable that there would be pressure to develop right up to it.”