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What are the real arguments behind debate over Ipswich northern bypass

PUBLISHED: 12:57 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 12:57 28 August 2019

The consultation event at Grundisburgh where people heard different justifications for the northern bypass. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

The consultation event at Grundisburgh where people heard different justifications for the northern bypass. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Archant

The debate over the Ipswich northern bypass - or Northern Route as councillors like to call it - sometimes looks like a gift that keeps on giving for political journalists like myself.

But at the risk of incurring the wrath of the die-hard supporters of the scheme, it's becoming increasingly difficult to disagree with Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter who says that the proposals now look dead in the water.

The interesting thing is that at present, and with the consultation period for the three possible routes still ongoing, the official line from the councils involved - and councillors from their administration - is simply that they support the consultation and people should take part.

While that sounds reasonable, it is actually succeeding only in hacking off people on both sides of the argument

People living in villages to the north of Ipswich all fear that the new road could ruin their community.

Anyone who has studied the document knows that the only feasible option is the one nearest Ipswich - but if some planner in Endeavour House has drawn an Outer or a Middle route that appears to pass within 20 metres of your garden, that is going to cause worry . . . and will blight the value of your property if you are hoping to move home.

Those who support the idea of the new road believe that this consultation stage is just the first step of the long march that will see them able to drive from Claydon to Martlesham in five minutes flat from 2030 - and really don't have any time for all the warnings about the need for new development that is contained in the document.

It's all very well to dismiss those who raise these issues as "The Anti Brigade" but if you aren't prepared to look at all the issues you really shouldn't be too surprised if you don't get the outcome you want!

And I'm becoming more and more convinced that if there is a final decision on this road, it will be to shelve all the plans for another generation because of the extreme difficulties in pushing it through at present.

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That is an outcome that will probably please no one - the road supporters will have no realistic prospect of seeing it built and those worried about its impact on their properties will have no definitive answer about where any road might go and there's always the chance the project could be resurrected in a couple of decades' time.

What is extraordinary is the stories I've heard from people who went to the consultation meetings or have been in touch with their local councillors - and have heard different stories from different people.

Residents who went to the Grundisburgh exhibition were told the proposed new road had nothing to do easing traffic in Ipswich - its main aim was to improve the link between the A14 and Lowestoft and other towns on the Suffolk coast.

Conservative Party members living in communities that would be affected by the road have been told by some of their councillors that the road won't be progressed at this stage - but the Tory-run authorities can't say that before a general election because they think it will damage Tom Hunt's aim of winning the Ipswich seat.

They see his support for the road being a key plank in his election campaign which they expect to take place in the autumn or early spring.

Talk about an about turn! A couple of years ago Tories in Ipswich criticised Labour's Sandy Martin for pushing for a northern bypass instead of the Upper Orwell Crossing. Maybe they feel it worked well for him then and might play for them now.

Whatever, it looks as if the Suffolk Tories (as opposed to the Ipswich Tories) are now starting to line up to oppose the road - either because of cost (£500-£560m + 50% according to Dr Therese Coffey), the number of new homes needed to service it (50,000, again according to Dr Coffey), or because of the environmental damage to the Suffolk countryside.

While in Ipswich the Labour council and the town's Conservative opposition politicians are united in supporting the inner route for the new road.

This is clearly a local issue that divides parties and unites communities - Labour members in the rural areas to the north of Ipswich seem as concerned about the proposal as their Conservative opponents.

I still have difficulty in seeing how the road can stack up - but there's still much to be argued about.

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