Are we ready to pay the true price to build a new by pass north of Ipswich?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 07 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:26 07 March 2019
Let me make it clear from the start that I would love it if there was an Ipswich northern bypass. It would make my journeys from my home in north west of the town to the Suffolk coast much easier.
But despite the announcements last week, I really cannot see it ever happening – and if it does, it won’t ease traffic in Ipswich.
Because the fact is the prospect of a road across the top of Ipswich is so dependent on new development along its route that there really wouldn’t be much room for the vehicles that everyone in the town is worried about.
A northern by-pass has been looked at many times already – most recently in 2014 before the government committed money to building the Upper Orwell Crossings.
A lot of people seem to believe that then Chancellor George Osborne offered former MP Ben Gummer millions of pounds for the bridge project on a whim.
He didn’t. There was a full cost-benefit analysis of a number of options (including a northern bypass) and the only one that stacked up was the UOC. Even that ultimately failed after county council “experts” failed in their attempt to estimate the costs of the project.
The government made it clear the only way a northern bypass could be built across the top of Ipswich was if it provided clear NEW economic benefits – ie freed up large areas of land for new development of houses and businesses.
Do you think it’s any coincidence that Suffolk County Council published a new report proposing 15,000 new homes to the north of Ipswich just days before it announced a timescale for what it calls a “northern relief road?”
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter came under a lot of stick for saying he would oppose the bypass. But he was spot on when he pointed out its construction was entirely dependent on building thousands of new homes in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There will be no northern bypass (or relief road) without the creation of Greater Grundisburgh and the Fynn Valley New Town.
And what about the costs of the new road?
No one knows how much it would cost – I’ve heard figures ranging from £120m (which seems unbelievably low) to more than £1bn (which seems more likely once all costs are taken into account) but who could we trust to calculate them? The county council’s experts have been tainted by the UOC debacle.
If people decide that the road is so important that it’s worth building 15,000 homes across the top of Ipswich, would it really then be of any benefit to current drivers?
According to planners, if you’re building a large number of new homes you assume that 2.5 people will live in each unit – and each unit will have 1.5 cars.
That would mean the 15,000 new homes would be putting 22,500 new vehicles on the roads – and what would be the first road they use? You’ve got it. The new main road would soon fill up with those living alongside it!
It’s also worth asking why the county’s council leaders all seemed so enthusiastic about the new road. I know that Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere hears a lot from voters about how good the road would be – and he is clearly representing their point of view.
But why are leaders from East and Mid Suffolk so keen? Why is the county council pressing on like this? Could it be the council tax receipts they see ahead of them from 15,000 new homes and business rates from new companies that open in the area?
Assuming residents are each paying an average of £1,500 a year, that would bring local authorities a £22.5m bonus every year before business rates come into the equation!
Of course there will be some who totally reject these figures and believe the government does have billions it is waiting to spend on road schemes.
And there will be some who feel that, whatever the price, it is worth it to see a new road built around the north of Ipswich.
The fact is that there are no simple answers to building a new road across the top of Ipswich. Any project (or abandoning the project) is likely to cause howls of protest from one side or another.
But for councils or other promoters of a new road to try to persuade people there are easy solutions that will not cause great pain to many people is totally disingenuous – and I’m not sure that when the facts are known anyone will have the stomach for a big fight over a scheme like this.