Poulter warns government has lost confidence in Suffolk road-building plans
PUBLISHED: 19:00 06 June 2019
Ministers at the Department for Transport have lost confidence in Suffolk County Council's ability to develop major road-building projects after the collapse of the Upper Orwell Crossing scheme, a Conservative MP has claimed.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter was one of three from the county - along with Suffolk Coastal's Dr Therese Coffey and Waveney's Peter Aldous - who accompanied councillors and officials to a meeting with ministers in London to discuss the Four Villages Bypass.
As we reported this week, the government has refused to back the plan because it did not believe it would provide good value for money, the council was not prepared to pay a large enough share of the scheme, and there were environmental concerns.
But Dr Poulter said that in discussions he had had with ministers the failure of the Upper Orwell Crossing project loomed large.
He said: "It is clear to me that they (ministers) don't have full confidence in the ability of Suffolk to develop a road scheme that can be delivered satisfactorily after what happened in Ipswich."
He is also concerned that the county's road-building plans lack focus: "They're adopting a scatter-gun approach. They're working on the Four Villages Bypass and then they start talking about the Northern Bypass for Ipswich.
"That is totally pointless. There is no way they can build a business case for that if they can't make an acceptable case for the Four Villages Bypass."
In the statement from the DfT about the decision not to support the bypass, it said: "Suffolk chose to drop the Upper Orwell LLM when the procurement resulted in too high a cost and the government said it would not provide any more funding."
Dr Poulter said this looked like a clear rebuff to the county council.
A spokesman for the county council said it was still working on the third crossing for Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, it had built new roads in Beccles and Bury St Edmunds and it had successfully developed the incinerator at Great Blakenham which means Suffolk's waste does not go to landfill sites.
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The current leadership at the county was dealing with decisions that had been made in earlier years and were working to find solutions to tough issues.
His views were backed up by the leader of the opposition Labour group at the county.
Sarah Adams said: "Let's be frank, this is another huge embarrassment for a Conservative administration who are clearly no longer trusted to deliver major infrastructure projects.
"There is little doubt that the Tory's disastrous Upper Orwell Crossings project, coupled with their dithering over the Northern bypass, has damaged the council's reputation on a national scale. That their own party in Government were reluctant to fund this project is a pretty damning indictment."
Dr Coffey, whose constituency includes two of the villages that would have been by-passed, said: "It is disappointing that the DfT hasn't seen fit to allocate funds for the Suffolk Energy Gateway at this time but I will continue to work alongside my fellow MPs and Council colleagues to push for the important improvements required on the A12.
"It is absolutely essential that in order to facilitate energy projects such as Sizewell C that the villages of Farnham and Stratford St Andrew in my constituency are by-passed by the associated construction traffic."
The business community is also concerned about the failure to win government support for the new road.
John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: "A key factor in the future prosperity of Suffolk and the wider eastern region is connectivity.
"It is essential for businesses to have access to a high quality and joined up road network in order to effectively transport goods and people to meet the demands of a globalised economy.
"This decision by the Department for Transport is disappointing as it raises short-term doubts about the effectiveness of the Suffolk Energy Gateway at the very time when the sector is maximising its growth potential.
"With campaigns underway to secure government funding to upgrade the A14 in Suffolk and the A47 in Norfolk, it is vital that the A12 corridor does not become the transport equivalent of a missing link."