Ipswich: Anger rises over fears of Orwell Bridge safety as speed limit reduction is delayed

Traffic backs up on Valley Road in Ipswich due to Orwell Bridge's closure.

Traffic backs up on Valley Road in Ipswich due to Orwell Bridge's closure.

Work to improve road safety on the Orwell Bridge has been delayed – prompting anger from local politicians and the business community.

A new 60mph speed limit, enforced by average speed cameras, should have been installed on the bridge during the summer in a bid to cut accidents which can lead to the whole town seizing up as vehicles take alternative routes.

However the proposed speed limit’s introduction has now been delayed until the “end of the year” – prompting fears that another autumn and winter of town centre gridlock could be on the cards.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer was fuming at the delay: “This is totally unacceptable. The Highways Agency has a responsibility to keep the roads moving and this was a vital change.

“I get the feeling they are more concerned about the process than they about the very real problems we face on the ground in Ipswich. We need action now!”

The delay is also raising concerns among the business community.

John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses in Ipswich have been key players and have provided a leading voice in the campaign to address ongoing problems with the Orwell Bridge.

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“It is frustrating and potentially damaging to the economy of Ipswich if there are further delays to the work. It will not be long before we come out of summer and head towards September and darker nights and bad weather.

“This all contributes to the challenges the Orwell Bridge can cause to transport in the town.”

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for transport Graham Newman has written a report for next week’s meeting of the authority expressing his disappointment that the speed limit and cameras have been delayed.

He said: “I do get the feeling that the Highways Agency does not see the same urgency that we do when dealing with the Orwell Bridge.

“The fact is that whenever it closes because of an accident the town comes to a standstill and there is nothing that can be done about that because the roads simply cannot cope.

There was concern about the average speed cameras because the Nacton side of the bridge was in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which has stricter planning controls.

Mr Newman said: “I don’t really see why that should matter, but I understand it is causing a further delay. What causes more of a problem, a camera on the bridge or traffic gridlock around the town when the bridge is closed?”

Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore has also been pressing the Agency to get on with the work, and remains hopeful the speed limit and cameras will be in place by the time the dark evenings arrive.

He said: “I have told them it is vital that the changes are made by the time the clocks go back at the end of October – that is when we tend to get the major problems on the bridge.

“I understand why the delay has happened, but there is no reason why the limits should not be in place by then and I won’t be letting them off if there are any further problems.”

A Highways Agency spokeswoman said: “Safety remains our top priority and we are working to establish a 60mph speed limit on the Orwell Bridge as soon as possible.

“As the bridge is in an area of outstanding natural beauty we have to take extra steps to make sure work to install signs, advising drivers of the speed limit, does not have a negative impact on the environment.

“This has resulted in a delay to the original timescales but we are confident that we will be able to complete the changes by the end of the year.”