Dualling A12 'not cost effective'

THE prospect of dualling the A12 between Ipswich and Lowestoft received a huge setback last night after highways chief said the benefits did not justify the massive cost.

By Alison Withers

THE prospect of dualling the A12 between Ipswich and Lowestoft received a huge setback last night after highways chief said the benefits did not justify the massive cost.

Suffolk County Council officers say it is unlikely the potential payback of dualling the entire road would be enough to warrant Government funding for such a project – costing up to £320million.

The comments come in an official response to a report commissioned by the Suffolk Development Agency examining transport links between Ipswich and Lowestoft. The county's executive committee meets next week to ratify the response.

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However, the county council has said it will still consider smaller scale schemes along the A12, including local bypasses, to improve journey times.

The report, conducted by consultants ECOTEC, concluded it was difficult for the north Suffolk area to attract inward investment and business because it was seen as remote, lacking in a skilled workforce and had a poor transport infrastructure.

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It suggested dualling the full length of the A12 between Ipswich and Lowestoft at a cost of between £240 million and £320 million – but acknowledged the prospect was unlikely to be considered.

The consultants also criticised the county council's plans for the A12, claiming they would result in substantial losses in jobs and reduction in the GDP in the north of the county.

But councillors are likely to argue ECOTEC has not seen the positive side of its plans to improve the A12, and has ignored the railway line in its assessment.

The consultants did not consider rail links in detail on the grounds that the number of users was relatively small and the journey time by rail was longer than it was by road.

Last night, Julian Swainson (Labour), portfolio holder for sustainable environment, planning and transport, said: "Dualling the A12 between Lowestoft and Martlesham will disrupt and split communities, cause considerable environmental problems and generate extra traffic on adjoining roads.

"The study ignores this and the effects of planned improvements to the A11 and A47, which would improve access to Lowestoft.

"The study ignores the potential to put more freight on railways and little attention is given to rail passenger improvements.

"Long distance journeys along the Lowestoft to Ipswich section of the A12 are a very small proportion of total traffic and under current government criteria complete dualling is not justified."

Mr Swainson added work already planned by the council aimed to improve the road – but recognised that reducing overall journey times between Ipswich and Lowestoft was important to business and they would be looking at schemes to achieve this.

Jane Hore (Labour), who represents Oulton Broad and is the county's portfolio holder for economic and social regeneration, said: "We are aware that Lowestoft is seen as a remote area by some businesses and with our partners we will continue to tackle the transport, skills and business issues highlighted in the report."

Peter Aldous, deputy leader of the Conservative group and councillor for the Halesworth area, said the difficulty was balancing the economic benefit of dualling the A12 to Lowestoft against the environmental issues it would raise in places like Blythburgh.

He said: "Being practical I don't think we are going to get dualling. It's very ambitious.

"Taking all these factors into account it would make more sense to push to get the bypass around Farnham, Little Glemham, Stratford St Andrew and Marlesford reinstated and to get a bypass at Wrentham.

"We shall be looking at the issue closely next week before making a decision about what to do next."

Val Vale, vice chairman of Marlesford parish council, said they wanted the village and the nearby villages of Little Glemham, Stratford St Andrew and Farnham to be bypassed.

Dualling could only work if combined with the bypassing of the villages, she said. Otherwise, it would cause worse problems for them.

Julia Harris, clerk at Farnham parish council, said their concern was to get some kind of bypass or relief road for the village, which lies on a sharp bend of the A12.

"The bend is a big problem," she said. "The road was built for horses and carts."

Joan Girling, county councillor for Saxmundham and Kelsale, said she could not see the current benefits of dualling the A12, but could see "the enormous cost".

"The whole of east Suffolk could find dis-benefit if they actually dual the whole road because you would be taking away some of the quiet charm of east Suffolk," she said.

"The Suffolk environment is one of the most precious assets that we have and therefore that needs protecting."

But she added: "There are areas of the A12 that may need careful examination as to whether they need a relief road."

She felt the ECOTEC reported was "a bit thin", and had not explored enough how the railway station in the middle of Lowestoft could be used to greater benefit.

In the current financial year, the council's plans for the A12 includes safety improvement schemes at problem junctions along the A12 at Blythburgh, Saxmundham and Benhall, lower speed limits on the A12 from the Martlesham bypass north roundabout to Wickham Market, at Marlesford, Little Glemham, Stratford St Andrew, Farnham, Yoxford, Darsham, Blythburgh Wrentham and Pakefield and pedestrian crossings at Grover Road/Hasketon Road, Woodbridge and at Wrentham.

The executive committee meeting will be on Thursday, June 5, at 10.30am.

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