We have to accept that Ipswich will not get a northern bypass
PUBLISHED: 05:30 30 January 2020
There will be some who think I will be celebrating at the news that the Northern Route across Ipswich is set to be finally killed off by Suffolk County Council next month. I won’t. I’ve always been a classic fence-sitter on the subject.
But I have always felt it was extremely unlikely to go ahead - and if it had been built it would be unlikely to do anything to ease Ipswich's congestion for more than a year or two because of the requirement to build so many homes to feed into it.
And I do feel that many of those concerned about Ipswich's congestion problems have been too blinkered in their search for a solution - they have been too confident that a northern bypass would be built and that it would be a silver bullet for all those problems.
I know there are still those who want to see the road built and want to continue the fight. My message to them (and I know they won't like it) is get a reality check.
Look at what the county council said this week. There are five issues that need to be reconciled before it would go ahead with the road. These include: serious consideration of the climate emergency, and accepting that the road could not be built without the construction of up to 15,000 homes.
And the most crucial point is that the county would only go ahead if there was "Widespread political support, both at national and local level." The fact is that two out of the three MPs involved are opposed to the road. Two out of the three councils involved are opposed to the road and almost 70% of people who took part in the consultation process were opposed to the road.
There is not an Orwellian scenario in which even the most skilled propagandist could represent this as "widespread political support."
The interesting thing about this is that, of course, the northern bypass has never been a party political issue. It's a geographical issue. Ipswich's Labour leader David Ellesmere and Tory MP Tom Hunt are united in wanting the road. Dr Dan Poulter and Dr Therese Coffey from Central Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal are joined by opposition groups in their constituencies in opposing the road.
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What is now needed is a sense of reality from everyone that the road is not going to be built. Not for a generation at least (and probably never). And we have to look for other solutions to Ipswich's traffic issues.
I've said before and I'll probably say again; Ipswich's traffic issues are no worse than most other cities or large towns of a comparable size (and are a lot better than many).
We need to look at other solutions to ease them - or at least preventing them from getting any worse. We cannot rely on a major new road being built across the Suffolk countryside to ease all the issues.
Councils and highway authorities need to come up with other major schemes to ease traffic. We need to get solutions to keep most traffic flowing on the Orwell Bridge when the wind blows. We need to get major junctions on the A14 (especially Copdock Mill) rebuilt. And we need major work to the most dysfunctional junctions in the town centre like the Novotel and Civic Drive roundabouts.
But employers and workers need to look at alternatives too. Is it really necessary to drive into town? Can you walk, cycle or take public transport? If you have to drive is it really necessary to work a traditional nine to five shift with everyone arriving or leaving at the same time?
Some people will have no alternative, but can big office-based employers like Axa, Willis, or Churchill do more to encourage flexible working? Giving staff the chance to take their computers home sometimes to work remotely or bring in flexible times.
I understood some have done this - but you only have to see the queues of cars coming out of their private car parks between 5pm and 5.30pm to see that a huge number of staff leave in the traditional "rush hour."
Until now Ipswich-based politicians have been far too frightened at the prospect of upsetting the car-driving lobby to make any of these points. They've been quite happy to hold out the prospect of the northern bypass as the magic wand that will solve all these problems.
Well now they know it won't. Whether they accept it is up to them. But if they don't then it will be the residents, the workers, the shoppers, and those who use the town for their leisure that will suffer as bitter politicians mutter darkly about the Nimbys in the countryside that killed their dream.