Ipswich MP: Labour just trying to 'score political points' in chicane row

The chicane in Maryon Road is claimed to cause traffic issues near Gainsborough Sports Centre and Ipswich Academy. 

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has criticised Labour councillors over the row on the Maryon Row chicane - Credit: Martin Cook

This week, I wanted to write about how important it is that Ipswich has engaged and active representatives at both borough and the county level.

If we want to push through change in our town and significantly improve our roads, then we need to have passionate councillors who are all over the issues in their wards.

I have been pleased to see that in parts of town where we have never had Conservative councillors before, or in places where our representation has previously been limited, the newly-elected Conservative councillors have been straight off the starting blocks finding out how they can help.

Already since the election of new Conservative councillors, we have seen successes.

Take Gainsborough, for example, where we have seen the recent filling-in of a number of the large potholes on Worcester Road and Norman Crescent which were also badly afflicting residents on neighbouring roads.

The local Gainsborough councillors, Shayne Pooley and Liz Harsant, have been actively looking at the state of the roads since their election - and Cllr Harsant actually raised the issue of Norman Crescent immediately upon her election.

Cllr Harsant has also been consulting with residents on and around Maryon Road about their thoughts on the removal of a chicane, which was introduced as a traffic calming measure in 2006.

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Since restrictions were eased, I have been out and about in town knocking on doors and in the Maryon Road area I have been made aware of the views of a number of residents that the chicane might now be causing more traffic problems than it is fixing.

I have written to around 400 residents asking them what they want to be done about the chicane, and currently the majority of responses have been strongly in favour of removal.

It is road issues such as this one which our newly-elected local councillors are all over, and I hope to work closely with them across town to implement solutions for my constituents.

It is quite surprising to me then that Labour councillor Martin Cook has begun to raise the issue of the chicane in what appears to me to be an attempt to score political points.

This week, Cllr Cook spoke about it to the Ipswich Star and mentioned that he has been asking the newly-elected Conservative Cllr Harsant to get it removed using her locality budget.

This may be all well and good, but in my view the timing is incredibly bizarre.

Given that Cllr Harsant’s locality budget is around £6,500 for highway projects for the whole year, it strikes me as incredibly odd that Cllr Cook did not push for the previous Labour councillor for Gainsborough to use her budget before the seat was lost to the Conservatives in the recent elections.

Kim Clements, the previous councillor, returned her massive £55,772.29 unspent locality budget to Suffolk County Council when she stood down.

If Cllr Cook wasn’t playing some sort of political game, then you would think he would have been perfectly placed to push for Kim Clements to sort out the road problem.

It strikes me that Cllr Cook is trying to make a media story out of something we are pushing for anyway. If he really cared about it, why is it that for the last four years he hasn’t been seriously trying to do something about it?

From Freedom of Information requests, I have obtained emails between Cllr Cook, Kim Clements and the county council.

They show that Cllr Cook did raise the issue in 2019 but, after five emails on the subject, the whole discussion died.

My question would be, why did he not push his colleague, with her large unspent locality budget, to pick up the mantle and get this thing sorted?

The real problem seems to be the Labour Party’s fixation with politics rather than practicality.

What may be motivating his desire to go to the press now is the realisation that through the inactivity of the Labour councillors, we now have a Conservative councillor trying to sort the issue out.

It seems the budget was there and that Suffolk County Council were receptive to the idea of removing it. In a recent tweet, he said that he had asked for a costing and that Kim Clements was “fully behind” the idea.

Why then did Cllrs Cook and Clements just let the issue die out, instead of chasing for it and really pushing for something the local residents clearly wanted?

Ultimately, Cllr Cook has been trying to make a media story about a missed opportunity for Gainsborough residents which Cllr Harsant and I have been trying to sort out.

What we do know is that over £55,000 went unspent from the previous Labour councillor and we will do what we can now to find the money from other sources.

It appears that this is all about him trying to claim credit for something that he in fact failed to sort out.

This is all money that should be going to fix our roads. In contrast, Ipswich’s Conservative county councillors fully allocated their budgets for their local areas before the elections.

As far as I’m concerned, the local Labour Party are up to their old tricks again. This time, however, people are finding it very easy to see through.

In my last column before the local elections, I mentioned that I had seen a number of examples of Labour councillors not spending their highways budgets during their terms.

I also mentioned that Labour borough councillors would often fail to bring up important road surface issues to the county council and thereafter try to blame the Conservative county council for the problems at election time. This week has been a reminder of such tactics.

In my view, as is becoming increasingly clear from the attempts to play politics over simple road issues across the town, the key to getting areas across the whole of our town running more efficiently is to get more active and engaged councillors in those seats.

We are already seeing the outcomes on the ground from the passion and drive of our newly-elected councillors. In the future, I want to see this replicated in other divisions.

Ultimately, it seems that Conservative councillors are concerned with finding solutions, while Labour councillors are focussed on politics.