What can Ipswich traffic taskforce achieve with no money?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:15 12 March 2020
Things are changing rapidly on the political front at the moment with yesterday’s budget and the coronavirus crisis forcing the government and society as a whole to change the way things are being run – hopefully temporarily.
On the local front the current crisis is also likely to have an impact on the new Ipswich Taskforce that is being set up to look at easing traffic problems in the town.
The scope for major improvements in and around Ipswich was always looking limited - the current paralysis caused by the coronavirus crisis means that there is likely to be even less money available to make major changes to the town than was thought a month ago.
The appointment of Ipswich MP Tom Hunt and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter as rotating chairs of the taskforce looks like an astute move by Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks.
By appointing MPs, it should mean they have a direct line of communication open to the Department for Transport, the Treasury and Number 10 Downing Street.
They are both Conservatives, which pleases the ruling group at Endeavour House, but they hold opposite views on the main issue that sparked the creation of the taskforce in the first place - the proposed northern bypass for Ipswich.
Had only one of them been chair of the taskforce, there would have been a real fear that those who held the opposite view would have felt their concerns could be ignored.
And believe me the question of the northern bypass still provokes raw emotions - it is the 'Brexit' issue for many people in the Ipswich area.
You may also want to watch:
By having both Mr Hunt and Dr Poulter as rotating chairs, it means that the taskforce is unlikely to be turned into a continuing campaign for a northern bypass, or to ever totally rule that out even if the government's funding rules are changed at some point in the future.
How to deal with traffic in the Ipswich area isn't really a party political issue anyway - although I have seen some councillors apparently trying to turn the taskforce into a party battleground.
At present it looks as if there will be two (Conservative cabinet members) councillors from Suffolk, two Labour councillors from Ipswich, and one councillor (almost certainly Conservative) from Babergh, Mid Suffolk and East Suffolk councils (although I understand East Suffolk might be looking for a second councillor on the taskforce if it starts looking at traffic issues in Kesgrave and Rushmere as well as the borough itself).
I have heard that some Ipswich council Tories want their own seat on the taskforce. My advice would be: 'Careful what you wish for!' If they got a separate voice on the body, you couldn't really refuse the Labour opposition from Suffolk and East Suffolk as well - and then it really would start looking like a bureaucratic behemoth incapable of reaching any rational decisions!
Whoever is on the taskforce, I fear it will have a difficult job in making any real difference to traffic in the near future because there simply will not be the funding available for any significant road changes for a year or two.
It may be possible to bring in a few, fairly cheap, changes to encourage people to use alternative methods of transport - walking, cycling, or using public transport - and these are all worth looking at.
But to be honest, it is difficult to see these changes making a major long-term difference to congestion levels in Ipswich.
There is a need for major road changes to improve traffic flow in the town centre. The junctions around the Waterfront have caused traffic hold ups for years and would cost many millions of pounds to remodel. It may be possible to change one or two over the next five years - but don't expect to be able to drive through the town centre as easily as you could 40 years ago before more people had access to private cars!
In short the taskforce is a sensible reaction to look at traffic issues in Ipswich, the most congested town in Suffolk (although Lowestoft might dispute that when the bridge is open) but by no means a national congestion hotspot - but to expect too much from this new body would be a mistake. There simply isn't likely to be enough money heading in our direction to do everything that people would like to speed vehicles through and around the town centre.