We may have to be forced out of our cars

OFFICIALS and councillors at both Endeavour House and across Russell Road in Grafton House are today studying findings of consultants who have been looking at ways of easing traffic problems around Ipswich town centre.

OFFICIALS and councillors at both Endeavour House and across Russell Road in Grafton House are today studying findings of consultants who have been looking at ways of easing traffic problems around Ipswich town centre.

They are especially anxious to avoid chaos around the Waterfront which could get much worse as thousands of new homes are built in the area.

For years some people have been saying not enough attention has been paid to the roads infrastructure as these new homes are being planned.

For years there have been warnings that the town faces gridlock if radical action - and expensive action - is not taken.

However, as the homes have started to take shape and the future of the Waterfront and town centre becomes clearer, I'm beginning to wonder if imaginative alternatives to expensive and environmentally-damaging new roads might not be the answer for the future.

We are told that many people moving into the new flats around the Waterfront will be either commuters heading to the railway station, or senior workers at offices in Ipswich town centre.

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It is not sustainable or sensible to expect thousands of people from Orwell Quay, Griffin Wharf, Regatta Quay, or The Mill (Cranfields) to jump into their cars and drive to the station car park every day - or to their office car parks (unless they need their vehicles for work).

The sensible way for them to reach their destination is to walk - but if they're not prepared to invest in some sensible shoes and a raincoat for use in bad weather then there should be public transport provided.

Another suggestion is that businesses should not encourage their staff to use their own car parks - if you are, for example, driving to Axa from Felixstowe you have to drive right across the town centre.

Would it not be better to leave your car at a park and ride centre on the Ransome's Europark and catch a bus into town?

To achieve this, however, we may have to be prepared for some pretty difficult times in the town centre - that could mean we really do face serious traffic congestion every day.

The reason is that if people are going to be persuaded to leave their cars at home and walk, cycle, or use public transport, you have to use the carrot and the stick.

The carrot - better buses, and the fact is that for many - probably most if we're honest - the stick is the only method that will work.

Even if a bus stops outside your front door every five minutes, most people - given the choice - would travel into town by car, in their own space without having to make eye contact with strangers.

That's human nature.

If you are going to tempt these people to use other forms of transport, they have to know it is quicker to leave the car at home not try to use it for short journeys.

That is why the proposed new road network for the town centre, gearing the roads to buses, bikes, and pedestrians, may be the best hope for the future of Ipswich.

At some time in the future it might be necessary to consider new roads - the idea of putting a road across the Wet Dock lock gates and New Cut to link the east and west banks has been proposed.

If people really are incapable of not using their cars for short journeys, this might eventually be necessary.

But it will be expensive, it won't happen for many years - until after most of the Waterfront flats have been built - and it will push more traffic on to the congested Wherstead and Landseer Roads.

The other new road proposal - an east bank link - is now effectively dead after the Highways Agency came to the conclusion it was not possible to put a new junction on to the A14 near the Orwell Bridge.

That might be good news for the environment, and the future of Piper's Vale, but it is a clear indication that building new roads to try to solve the traffic problems of the oldest English town is not a simple answer to all its problems.

People living in the heart of London, Birmingham, and many other large cities are used to a lifestyle which does not rely on driving everywhere. Perhaps that is a lesson some people in central Ipswich will have to learn as well.

THIS week's announcement of government grants has brought the predicted cries of anguish from Suffolk County Council.

However to those on the outside looking in it is once again difficult to work out exactly what is happening.

The government says it is giving a grant rise considerably above the rate of inflation - and says that grants to local authorities have increased significantly since it was first elected in 1997.

The council says the inflation it is facing is considerably higher than that recorded in the official rate - and that the ageing population means it is having spend less on more people who need its services.

All this is, no doubt, true. But what is difficult for local people to understand is why services to the vulnerable are coming under threat when too often other areas of council development continue unchecked.

It is not easy for the county to explain why it is so strapped for cash while it is going ahead with shiny new projects like new fire stations across Suffolk and a new sixth form centre on the edge of Ipswich.

I know the money comes out of separate budgets. The county's politicians know the money comes out of separate budgets. And those who are working for the council know the money comes out of separate budgets.

But the tough job for the county and its spin doctors is to get that message across to the beleaguered council tax payers who have to pay more and more and see services getting cut year by year.

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