Northern bypass backing fractures as two councils withdraw support
- Credit: Archant
The prospect of a northern bypass to aid Ipswich’s traffic problems appears to be on the rocks, after support for the project splintered.
But the business case has demonstrated a "solid economic case" for it being built.
Results of the public consultation held last year were published this morning, and found that more than two thirds of the 4,286 people who took part were opposed to any new road, with only 26% of respondents in favour.
The consultation found a clear geographical split, with those supporting a road in the town centre and those to the north being vehemently opposed.
But Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has said the project must press ahead.
He said: "There is a solid economic case for building the northern bypass. It's been quite clear for some time that the inner route was the only game in town and I'm glad that this has now been formally underlined in this report. Energy and focus now needs to be directed at promoting this option.
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"The business case ratio for the inner route is above the threshold at which the Government begin to take infrastructure schemes very seriously. In fact it's far higher than that for the HS2 stretch between London and Birmingham.
"I appreciate this issue is complex and that it has divided opinion in Suffolk. I love the Suffolk countryside and I'm not cavalier when it comes to building on our countryside but there are moments when important decisions have to be made and when coming to a conclusion it's important to see the bigger picture and to weigh up many different and often competing priorities.
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"Ultimately for me, the conclusion that I come to is that the northern bypass needs to be built and there is a reason why the business case is strong. We simply need a solution to the congestion that so often grinds our Town to a standstill. The economic implications of this are vast. The economic potential of Greater Ipswich is capped due to our inadequate road infrastructure. Building the northern bypass would make a major contribution to addressing this."
Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks was clear the scheme would only progress if there was county-wide support, but that now looks unlikely after East Suffolk and Mid Suffolk councils confirmed they could not back further work.
Conservative leader at East Suffolk Steve Gallant said: "Having studied the findings from the strategic outline business case and the public consultation, I can confirm that East Suffolk Council does not support the proposals for the new Ipswich Northern Route.
"I have been clear throughout this process that impacts on communities in our district would have to be taken into consideration and I do not believe our residents' interests would be best served by continuing with the project.
"The reality is that this new road will only happen if additional homes are built to justify it and, at the moment, a figure as high as 15,000 new properties would be required to make it financially viable.
"According to standard planning estimates, this could lead to a new settlement with a population greater than Felixstowe and three times the size of Woodbridge, with a further 20,000 additional cars on the road.
"The primary purpose of a new road would be to cut down congestion elsewhere, however the potential volume of new and additional traffic is worrying. In addition, the cost estimates are troubling and even without any legal challenge we would not see a road built before 2027."
Conservative leader at Mid Suffolk, Suzie Morley, added: "I do believe it was right to develop the proposals for public consultation.
"However, as representatives of Mid Suffolk, we must balance the importance of improving travel times in Suffolk with the needs and wishes of our residents, and the natural environment which we hold dearly.
"It is quite clear that public opinion in Mid Suffolk is against the INR.
"On balance, I cannot see a future for the Ipswich Northern Route project, so we will not be supporting it beyond this point.
"This is a carefully considered position, but one which we believe is in the best interest of Mid Suffolk residents to whom we are ultimately accountable."
According to the outline strategic business case, around 15,000 homes would be needed to facilitate such a route, as government would not green light a road-only scheme.
That number of homes - which would be on top of existing local plan allocations - would be spread along the new road, but has raised questions over whether the route would really tackle the congestion issues it is designed to combat or only facilitate the traffic from those new properties.
If pursued, it would be as a dual carriageway with national speed limits.
Figures prepared by consultants WSP have said the inner route - which will join the A12 at Martlesham and the A14 just south of Claydon - would cost around £385million if built today, but that figure will be more like £500-560m in 2027 when it would be built.
However, doubt has been levied at those numbers by various interested parties, with some estimates nearer £1billion.
The consultation and outline business case has been funded by £550,000 pledged by Suffolk Public Sector Leaders, with the published report effectively marking the end of that phase.
Mr Hicks said any further work would be dependent on five areas - clarity on where the housing would go; support across all of the district and borough councils; the scheme not going against the council's climate emergency declaration; consideration of the Stop the Northern Bypass petition and acceptance that it could not be a "road-only" scheme.
He said: "I am pleased that Suffolk County Council has delivered on its commitment to complete phase one of the Ipswich Northern Route project.
"This phase of the process was commissioned and funded by Suffolk Public Sector Leaders, so it is entirely right that the outline business case be returned to them so that together, we can consider the findings, and decide whether this project should proceed to phase two.
"While Suffolk County Council, as the transport authority, has the responsibility for submission of any transport scheme to the Department for Transport, we have throughout this project emphasised the need for a Suffolk wide collaborative approach if this project is to enjoy any realistic chance of success.
"I look forward to receiving the views of my fellow leaders in due course."
Once the district and borough councils have given their feedback, a report will be presented to the county council's cabinet meeting on February 25 outlining the next steps, and effectively determine whether that will continue.
If cabinet agrees to pursue work, it will be required to apply for government funding, which could be as much as £3m, to prepare the strategic business case for submission.
The business case suggests that constructing the inner route would provide a very good return if new homes are built, and has been hailed by supporters of the scheme.
Mark Ling from the Orwell Ahead campaign group said: "In his election leaflet Dr Dan Poulter claimed that it will be '£1billion and 50,000 houses', now its £500m and a town the size of Haverhill?!
"Why not just stick to the facts and stop scaremongering? The inner route is costed at around £350m, no more or less - and equal size - to the Norwich Northern Distributor.
"Four Suffolk districts, with three local plans, have committed to build 36,000 houses across the Ipswich Housing Market Area.
"This is a huge geographic area of approximately 700sq miles but is officially recognized as being dependent upon Ipswich's infrastructure, economy and services. So, the inner route highway is absolutely needed if all Suffolk is to meet its socioeconomic and housing needs."