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Upper Orwell Crossings are doomed by lack of both funds and enthusiasm

PUBLISHED: 05:54 04 October 2018

Colin Noble and Ben Gummer at the unveiling of the Upper Orwell Crossing proposal. Neither are in a position to fight for the crossing now. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Colin Noble and Ben Gummer at the unveiling of the Upper Orwell Crossing proposal. Neither are in a position to fight for the crossing now. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

Archant

So the Upper Orwell Crossing has a stay of execution until December – but I haven’t yet come across anyone who, in their heart of hearts, believes that the project isn’t doomed.

Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners.Overall look of the bridges for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Foster + Partners.

There is a remote chance something could be cobbled together to build a bridge from Felaw Street to the Island Site and a pedestrian route across the lock gates, but that would be likely to be many years away if it happens at all.

And with the plans having been drawn up, they could always be dusted off in a decade or two if the traffic around the Waterfront continues to get even worse. But I don’t expect to ever see an extravagant bridge soaring across the River Orwell.

In the end the will to build the road just wasn’t there.

The scheme’s backers in Whitehall and Westminster, Ben Gummer and George Osborne, departed the corridors of power 18 months ago.

Its local champion Colin Noble was booted out of the leadership of Suffolk County Council earlier this year.

The Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Ipswich Central remain committed to the project – but deep down I don’t really think they can see it going ahead because the money just isn’t there.

This wasn’t ever really a plan that united people and made them want to campaign for it. In Lowestoft politicians, businesses and people generally have been campaigning for a third river crossing for generations.

In Ipswich the reaction among the public to the bridges ranged from: “That looks nice and it might take a bit of traffic away from the Waterfront,” to: “That’s a disaster. It will push more traffic near my home and do nothing to fight congestion.”

The fact is there was much more emotion whipped against the scheme than there ever was in favour of it.

Personally I liked the scheme. I believe that if Suffolk County Council had had the guts to go ahead with it and shut some of the roads around the Waterfront on the day it opened, it could really have helped to improve the town centre.

But I never really believed that would happen – no one would have had the courage to do that on day one without a 150-page study compiled over 18 months. By that time drivers would have got used to using all the roads in the area and councillors would have been scared stiff of offending the petrolheads who will fight to the death for the right to sit in polluting traffic jams.

It is, of course, money that is really killing off the Upper Orwell Crossings. There is little chance of the county council turning up £43m in two months flat!

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling made it clear earlier this year that there was no chance of his department stumping up any more than the £77m it has already committed.

The Local Enterprise Partnership can allocate £800,000 towards Ipswich Cornhill – but tens of millions for a new bridge is out of its league.

Given all the lobbying he’s been getting from, among others, Norfolk and Essex Tories for new money at his party conference this week I can’t see there is any chance of Mr Grayling giving tens of millions more for a scheme that many people (including many Ipswich Conservatives) don’t want in the first place.

Not that the £77m is likely to come to any other projects in Ipswich – Mr Grayling will be delighted to put the money back into his pot for someone who wants it. How about completing the A47 dualling from Norwich to Peterborough?

Because make no mistake. This wasn’t £77m allocated to Ipswich that can be shifted to a northern relief road or a new Copdock Interchange.

This was £77m allocated to a specific project which had undergone a full cost-benefit analysis and which, in the end, Ipswich and Suffolk didn’t believe in sufficiently to fight for.

What does worry me is that the whole Upper Orwell Crossing business may turn out to be a poisoned chalice for the town.

I worry that civil servants and government ministers will look at Ipswich as the town that was offered millions for a new project and ultimately couldn’t make it work.

And that could lead to another worry. Would they feel the same way if, at some point in the not-too-distant future, Suffolk County Council goes knocking at their door asking for money to support a new Northern Relief Road?

I think that could just have become a rather more difficult negotiation!

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