Three months to save Ipswich park and ride – Suffolk County Council

Ipswich Park and Ride. Martlesham.

Ipswich Park and Ride. Martlesham. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Users and administrators of Ipswich’s under-threat park and ride have just three months to come up with ideas to save the service.

That was the stark message from the county councillor responsible for transport Suffolk – dismissing suggestions that the service would run until November 2018 when the current contract expires.

However James Finch insisted that he did not want to close the service – he was keen to find a way of cutting costs and making it pay for itself. Last year the council spent £712,000 subsidising the service that has two 550-space parks at Copdock and Martlesham.

And the team behind the Ipswich Vision said it would be producing proposals to cut the cost of operating park and ride as part of a larger review of the town’s parking needs – and would ensure they were available to the county by March.

But he said if nothing could be done to cut its costs the council would be forced to give its current operators Ipswich Buses six months’ notice.

He said: “In the new year we will be looking at all the options to cutting costs for running the service. We will be talking to (service operators) Ipswich Buses, to the Ipswich Vision board, to passengers and anyone with an interest in the service.

“We will consider anything that is suggested – the only thing that is not an option is leaving things as they are. We simply cannot afford to carry on subsidising every park and ride user to the tune of £3.27 each visit.”

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Mr Finch said that the council’s statistics showed that of the near-800 vehicles that used the park and ride every day, 600 were commuters travelling to work in the town centre.

That meant many of the buses during the day were travelling empty or nearly empty.

Although there is a five-year contract with Ipswich Buses that started in November 2013 to run buses between the park and ride sites at Copdock and Martlesham to the town centre and hospital, that can be terminated with six months’ notice – and Mr Finch said he was coming under pressure from the council’s finance chiefs to reduce his department’s budget.

“I really want park and ride to carry on. I want more people to use it. I think with more of a push we can get more people to use it – but ultimately it cannot carry on at its current cost.”

Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter felt the county’s commitment to the town would enable a solution to be found.

He said: “Ipswich Central is delighted that Suffolk County Council has signed up fully to the 21 principles of the Ipswich Vision.

“As part of this the Vision board has commissioned a parking survey for the county town which, at the request of the county, includes the Park and Ride service.”

Mr Baxter said that given the current urgency about the future of the park and ride service, the consultant would be asked to look first at the town’s park and ride service to suggest ways of making it more economically viable. Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Ipswich Christopher Hudson said: “I welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with partners of the Ipswich Vision Group as part of a working group in the New Year. We need to find a workable travel offer for Ipswich. We do not want to lose this service for the town but it must pay its way.

“The simple truth is that we need to reduce the running costs of the Park and Ride service as we face the need for significant savings at the county council. We are listening to the views of business and the community and together, I hope we can find a solution. ”