Why Suffolk’s future road improvements rely so heavily on a bridge in Lowestoft – and the far reaching consequences if it doesn’t go ahead
PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:11 09 March 2020
SARAH LUCY BROWN
A cheque for billions of pounds, poised finely on a bridge spanning a lake in Lowestoft – as much at risk of staying put as falling into the water.
That's exactly where Suffolk stands right now for the future of its transport infrastructure, with that bridge representing nothing short of the entire weight of future aspiration for major roads in our county.
Some may say that is over-egging the pudding, but make no mistake that this is a deadly serious notion - and one which could be catastrophic for the vital developments you and I need to see for our roads if it doesn't happen.
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Plans for a third crossing in Lowestoft have been in the pipeline for several years now, and despite fears that the final sign-off is still left wanting three months after Boris Johnson secured an emphatic election victory, the bridge perhaps looks more secure than it has in recent months.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous has this week said he is confident the promised £73million from the Department for Transport is not going away - despite the Government seemingly ploughing cash into the north, and believes that the sign-off for the scheme is imminent.
That is good news for the town and the county, who have been left waiting to such a degree that doubts have crept in about whether it will happen at all.
But perhaps what is little known is just how much this project needs to happen, and I am not talking about the economic and travel benefits to Lowestoft - it is the county's infrastructure as a whole.
Behind closed doors, Suffolk County Council's administration has been bruised by the highly public setbacks on key road projects.
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Only last month it opted not to pursue a northern bypass for reasons that are well versed.
But married to the escalating costs of the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich and the Sudbury bypass - both of which had to be canned as a result - and the failure to secure government backing for the four villages bypass in east Suffolk, and you suddenly have a turbulent 18 months where four of five major road projects have died.
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Yes, some were more concrete that others, but that doesn't change the fact that all were very serious projects.
Let's not forget that the Upper Orwell Crossings had already been granted cash by the DfT before the council found its numbers didn't quite add up, and that still ended up a lost cause. The idea that Lake Lothing is a given is not cast in stone until Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps brush the dust off the third crossing plans and sign on the dotted line.
Eighteen months ago when everything still looked rosy for those four other projects, the importance of Lake Lothing on a wider county level was probably not as significant as it is now.
Privately, there are fears that Suffolk is not seen as a safe pair of hands by senior DfT officers who hold the purse strings. Given that two of those projects escalated in costs so wildly - around £40m for the Upper Orwell Crossings and £20m for the Sudbury bypass - what other conclusion could they draw that Suffolk's figures should be treated with a pinch of salt?
And at a time when Suffolk's leaders and MPs have united to plea for major investment in the A14 - particularly around key junctions like Copdock - the Lake Lothing project simply cannot be allowed to fail.
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It's more than just a bridge to aid travel around Lowestoft, it is the win that the county needs to start the road to recovery in the eyes of government. It's the sign of commitment from the county's MPs and council leaders to the public that it does lobby hard for investment in a county that has, traditionally, been chronically underfunded in most areas.
If Lake Lothing doesn't happen, Suffolk will be tainted with a black mark for any future DfT funding - be it A14 improvements, rail upgrades, Orwell Bridge measures or a duelled A12.
And when the post-Brexit potential for the Port of Felixstowe to be more of an economic driver for this country than it is already is so heavily reliant on our transport network, that is simply not an option.