Future of road projects in the balance

LONG hoped-for road projects throughout Suffolk, including bypasses for Brandon in the west of the county and four villages south of Saxmundham on the A12, may never be built because of stringent Government guidelines on the environment.

By Graham Dines

LONG hoped-for road projects throughout Suffolk, including bypasses for Brandon in the west of the county and four villages south of Saxmundham on the A12, may never be built because of stringent Government guidelines on the environment.

And any schemes that do pass Whitehall muster are unlikely to be started before 2011 at the earliest.

These stark warnings will be given to county councillors when they meet next month to decide their priority list for the next five year Local Transport Plan which is due to run from 2006.

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The A12 scheme, involving bypasses for Farnham, Stratford St Andrew, Marlesford and Little Glemham, and the Brandon improvement, have been on the drawing board for more than 20 years.

But increasing concerns over biodiversity could scupper their prospects unless the county council can convince ministers that the advantages to the economy and local communities outweigh environmental considerations.

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First major casualty of the Government's clampdown is the notorious A140, which has one of the worst accident records of any major road in the East of England. A scheme to bypass Stonham and the junction with the A1120 at Creeting Bottom is unlikely to be even submitted to the Government because the county council fears it will be thrown out.

Council officers cite the example of the Sudbury western by-pass. The county's director of environment and transport Lucy Robinson said Whitehall's refusal approve it on environmental grounds "shows how important these issues have become."

Suffolk is expected to implement a series of road safety measures at some of the key junctions along the A140 to complement the recently introduced 50mph speed limit traffic from the Norfolk border towards the A14 at Beacon Hill.

All schemes on the council's original long list of priorities have been assessed for their likely impact on noise, emissions, biodiversity, heritage, landscape and townscape. Those which could have serious or very serious consequences face a "high risk" they will be rejected by the Government.

As well as the A140, Suffolk is likely to refuse to sanction bypasses for Great Barton (A1065), Bungay (A144), Wrentham (A12), the £95m Ipswich waterfront green route and wet dock crossing, and the £67m Ipswich east bank link road.

However, even though the Brandon and A12 villages bypasses could fall foul of the Government, Suffolk is likely to press for their inclusion in the future roads programme.

In her report to councillors, Ms Robinson acknowledges the Brandon bypass "would have potentially severe environmental impacts" with much work needed to be done to mitigate them. The scheme would also have serious consequences for archaeological remains.

"Traffic impacts on people living in Brandon are, however, very severe and a bypass represents the most effective means to bringing relief to the town."

Although the A12 bypass for Marlesford, Little Glemham, Stratford and Farnham represents good value for money, it would have "potentially severe impacts on biodiversity and the landscape", she said.

The opposition Tories on the authority said yesterday they would have a manifesto commitment in next year's elections to build the A12 and Brandon bypasses which would circumvent the Whitehall process. Their transport spokesman Guy McGregor claimed alternative means of funding would be made available.

If councillors approve Ms Robinson's report, top priorities forwarded to Whitehall will be the A146 Barnby to Carlton Colville bypass - which will improve Lowestoft's links to the trunk road network - the north Lowestoft package providing a new port entrance and improved bus and rail interchange, and the relocation of the county bus station from Ipswich's Old Cattle Market to Tower Ramparts.

All councils with highways responsibilities have to submit requests for Government funding by way of a five year Local Transport Plan, in which they effectively bid against each other for a slice of highways money.

The Government considers each submission and then will either approve or reject individual schemes from each authority.

Once the go-ahead for major road schemes is given, they can take between seven and 10 years for develop. This means that although projects are in the April 1 2006-March 31 2011 Local Transport Plan, the reality is that construction will not start until the next five year plan from April 1 2011-March 31 2016.

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