We must keep things moving in Ipswich – by road and rail

PUBLISHED: 05:30 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 06:13 24 January 2020

Orwell Bridge closures cause serious traffic problems all over Ipswich.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Orwell Bridge closures cause serious traffic problems all over Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In my column last week, I stressed the importance of not losing any time in Westminster when it comes to making progress on the issues that matter to Ipswich.

The new Greater Anglia Intercity train at Ipswich on its first day in passenger service. Tom Hunt wants to see better reliability on the region's rail lines. Picture: JOHN DAYThe new Greater Anglia Intercity train at Ipswich on its first day in passenger service. Tom Hunt wants to see better reliability on the region's rail lines. Picture: JOHN DAY

Lost time was also a subject on the mind of many local road users last week as delays followed more closures of the Orwell Bridge. Recently, the leader of the Ipswich Central business group estimated that £1 million a day was lost to Ipswich's economy as a result of the disruption caused by the closures. This gives readers a sense of the economic impact of this issue and why the resources dedicated to a solution should be seen as an investment in the town.

I was therefore pleased to be able to meet with Highways England on Tuesday who have been working on a report looking into what can be done to solve the Orwell Bridge problem. This report will finally be published in the coming days but I was able to go through its key findings in the meeting.

Before the meeting I was clear that a report full of corporate jargon and lacking a clear path to safe and workable solutions wouldn't cut the mustard. I am pleased to report though that the meeting was positive. At this stage I am cautiously optimistic that the findings of the report could lead to a robust plan of action for both the short and long terms that will prevent the need for the bridge to be completely shut to all vehicles at times of high wind.

I will continue to study and react to the report when its fully released and stakeholders share their views; and I will of course keep up the pressure until solutions are in place, even as we get out of the windiest part of they year.

While I am hopeful that we are beginning a new chapter with the Orwell Bridge, this week was a chance to hopefully close the chapter on the rail disruption experienced by thousands of passengers over the festive period and into the new year. Yesterday I chaired a summit with representatives of Network Rail and Greater Anglia along with other MPs from the East of England.

At the summit, I pressed the representatives to explain the causes of the disruption and what can be done to avoid it happening with such severity in the future.

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I raised the problems with the introduction of new trains on the Ipswich to Peterborough line and the training of drivers to operate those trains.

I also stressed many constituents' dissatisfaction with the frequent mainline work on Sundays which leaves many facing the prospect of replacement bus services.

Signal failures, cancellations on the East Suffolk Line, rail fares and overcrowding were all on the agenda too.

Greater Anglia and Network Rail set out the technical details behind the disruption, including the seasonal weather and the knock-on effects from that and signal failures.

I appreciate this but I do standby the view that a little more common sense could have been used, particularly when it comes the timing of introducing new trains and getting the drivers trained up to operate them.

I will continue pushing for decisions to be taken with passengers' interests at the forefront.

As well as infrastructure people can rely on, its important that people have the skills in place to take advantage of the opportunities in the economy. On Wednesday, I intervened in the Chamber on telecommunications infrastructure to call on the Government to work with universities, such as the University of Suffolk, to bring forward degree apprenticeships focusing on the kind of research needed to roll out the Government's ambitious plans to boost digital infrastructure.

We must think in a joined-up way about how local people can exploit the opportunities in our local economy. As well as the university, BT's research laboratories are just down the road at Adastral Park. If we can exploit what is on our doorstep we can offer people a path to well-paid jobs and a real stake in a society.

So all in all another very busy week in Parliament. Next week I plan to make two speeches, one on NHS funding and the other on Global Britain where I will push for the case for Ipswich to be at the heart of the Government's attempts to scale up Britain's trading links across the world.

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