Commitment to the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich

Upper Orwell CrossingOn 8th June, Sandy Martin, the Leader of Labour opposition on Suffolk County Council was elected as Ipswich’s MP.  Ipswich has always been a bell-weather seat and given the extraordinary General Election he just pipped the hard-working Ben Gummer ‘at the post’.  During the campaign and subsequently as MP one of the first things he did was declare his dislike for the Upper Orwell Crossings (UOC) in favour of a Northern Relief Road which I think was a shock to the business community and other Ipswich partners on the Ipswich Vision Board, who are entirely behind the regeneration project to open up derelict / low value land in the heart of Ipswich’s waterfront and bring with it the sort of new high worth tech jobs the town so badly needs.  Instead Mr. Martin said the money should be ‘switched’ toward the Northern Relief Road, a project the County Council entirely supports but as the next mayor infrastructure project, but not instead of the UOC.  This change of direction must have also stunned his colleague David Ellesmere who as Leader of the Borough Council and member of the Ipswich Vision Board, has been supportive of the scheme since its inception.

However, there is a fundamental problem with the stance of the new MP as Government funding for the UOC is not geography based it is project based so it’s not some sort of ‘pick and mix’, that can be switched. The funding of the UOC and the Third River Crossing in Lowestoft comes from a funding pot called Local Majors and across the country Highways Authorities such as SCC had to make extensive, detailed and through business cases to bid for funding.  Fortunately, given the chronic congestion issues in Lowestoft holding back business growth and the massive economic benefits to Ipswich the UOC brings, both won through.  Should the new MP succeed in getting the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Transport to look again, the most he could achieve would be that the scheme could be dropped and the next scheme that it beat in the funding round, would have a windfall.  This would be an absolute tragedy for Ipswich’s economic future.  Tomorrow there is a meeting of the UOC Task Force which I now Chair and like other members we all hope Mr. Martin can attend so he can understand how the funding works and the importance of the UOC to the future of Ipswich.

I have heard criticism from some that Mr. Martin was keep in the dark on the project and so is hardly surprising he wants to look again at the project, this is utter nonsense.  Mr. Martin is not new to Ipswich or the project.  He has been the Leader of the Opposition on the County Council for the past 8 years.  All the papers and reports on the project are a matter of public record, they are as is the way of these things slightly complex but as an experienced Councillor Mr. Martin was/is better able than most to read the hundreds of pages on the project, I have. Every document is listed at

https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/UpperOrwellCrossings

Equally virtually no one was better placed to understand the project than Mr. Martin, as Leader of the Opposition, he or his team was present at the very meetings where we took the decisions to commit funding and had every opportunity to ask questions and seek further information.

We all agree for Ipswich to grow it needs a Northern Relief road to help easy traffic over the Orwell bridge and in the north of Ipswich but also to allow housing growth.  However, the economic growth that the UOC and the regeneration of the waterfront with new Hi-Tec companies and high worth jobs, comes first.

So as part of our campaign to stress, my and SCC commitment to this vital infrastructure project I have written to the DCLG Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP and the same to Chris Grayling MP the SoS for Transport to re-confirm Suffolk County Council’s commitment to the Upper Orwell Crossing and to exploring a Northern Relief Road Route for Ipswich.

‘Dear Sajid,

I am writing to confirm and emphasise the very strong support for the Upper Orwell Crossings from Suffolk County Council and our partners locally and nationally.

Upper Orwell Crossings

The County Council with its partners is driving forward the delivery of these bridges which will link the east and west banks of the River Orwell, providing a long needed new route for cross-town traffic, and access to the port’s island site – opening this newly created Enterprise Zone site to development. This £96.7 million investment into Ipswich will have a transformative impact on Ipswich’s economy and signals our ambitions for the town.

A compelling outline business case for this project resulted in the announcement, in the March 2016 Budget, of £77.546 million funding from the Department for Transport.  The local financial contribution of £19.1 million – is confirmed and available. Following a hotly contested international Architectural Team competition, we have recently appointed Foster and Partners as the architects for the bridges.  In addition to ongoing stakeholder engagement and scheme design and development, we have completed extensive environmental surveys and a local consultation.

The Upper Orwell Crossings has a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 4.01 and has therefore been categorised as being a very high Value for Money scheme; with around £300 million of Transport Benefits and £6.5 billion of wider economic benefits.

Delivery of the Upper Orwell Crossings is one of the 21 Commitments made by the Ipswich Vision Board. Ipswich Vision is a partnership of local authorities, New Anglia LEP, Chamber of Commerce, University of Suffolk, Ipswich Central – the Business Improvement District and the local MP. It was established in 2015 to develop and publish a blueprint for the development of Ipswich and increase investment in the town, with clear commitments, including developing the waterfront as a high tech, innovation and learning quarter. The Vision Board is a sub-committee of New Anglia LEP, chaired by Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP. The partnership working which has been achieved through the Vision Board is ground breaking for Ipswich.

Part of the Island site to be opened by the bridges will house incubation units for fledgling start-ups and provide a link between academia and the major digital employers already located in Ipswich (such as British Telecom, Intel, Cisco Systems, Nokia and Huawei Technologies). Ipswich has a cluster of ICT businesses, recognised in the Tech Nation Report 2017. The investment in the Upper Orwell Crossings will significantly develop the opportunities for high tech companies to locate and grow in Ipswich, within a new high-technology hub linked to the University of Suffolk.

The Island Site and surrounding regeneration area is a 10 minute walk from Ipswich Railway Station which has fast and frequent Mainline service into the heart of London’s financial centre and high tech cluster in Farringdon.

The Upper Orwell Crossings will enable improvements to connectivity and the public realm within Ipswich and will be a transformative catalyst to the regeneration of the area. Their delivery will facilitate high density employment and residential development, and enable the creation of a quality urban realm which will attract both developers to develop and people and businesses to invest. The elements needed for the realisation of this exciting opportunity, to create a high tech knowledge cluster in an attractive location, to improve connectivity and the public realm are now in place, and I strongly believe should not be jeopardised.

Ipswich Northern Relief Road

The County Council and its partners are committed to developing a scheme to improve road capacity in the north of the town. This is to support significant housing development in the wider Ipswich area. The development of this scheme cannot be seen as being an alternative to the Upper Orwell Crossings. The latter is focussed on economic regeneration and improving the quality of the environment between the town centre and waterfront, with some transport benefits arising from relieving some traffic on the A14 and the central area, whereas a Northern Relief Road would enable the delivery of a substantial number of new homes to meet the needs of our residents.

All of the Suffolk Local Authorities have been working together to establish how we can deliver significantly increased housing numbers. In part, this work was started as a result of our devolution discussions with government, during which we committed to delivering around 95,000 new homes across Suffolk. Ipswich has a very great role in delivering a significant proportion of that growth as the county town and driver for growth in Suffolk. But in order to deliver this level of housing growth, we need to ensure that the required infrastructure is provided.

We have just concluded a significant piece of consultancy work to understand the future for planning and infrastructure in Suffolk. This concludes that the delivery of an Ipswich Northern Relief Road, located to the north of Ipswich between the A14 in the west and A12 in the east, will be necessary to support the growth of the Ipswich area beyond levels set out in current local plans. Failure to provide the Ipswich Northern Relief Road is expected to have significant implications for the surrounding strategic and local highway network (i.e. A14, A12, B1078 and Ipswich Radial Corridors), and the long term economic performance of Ipswich, and the opportunities available to its residents.

Furthermore, the growth planned in current local plans is forecast to be at the limit of what can be accommodated by existing road infrastructure. Therefore, to ensure infrastructure is provided to support development, Suffolk Public Sector Leaders have dedicated funding from their pooled Business Rates to begin developing a scheme to deliver the Northern Relief Road in Ipswich.

In conclusion

The Upper Orwell Crossings will transform the economy of Ipswich and Suffolk. The project will deliver high quality urban realm improvements, create better connectivity across the town, provide benefits for the A14 and enable the growth of the Ipswich Waterfront area as a location for high tech companies and high quality residential development. Work to deliver these bridges is underway and should not be jeopardised.

We are beginning to develop a scheme for a Northern Relief Road for Ipswich using pooled Business Rates. A Northern Relief Road will be necessary to support housing growth beyond what is contained in current local plans and we ask government to support the development and delivery of this road to enable Suffolk’s ambitious housing delivery plans.

It is not a case of either the Upper Orwell Crossings or a Northern Relief Road – Ipswich needs both if it is to grow and realise the ambitions we and our partners have for it.

Councillor Colin Noble

Leader of Suffolk County Council

Deborah Cadman

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Deborah and I with Shaun Whiter at the Suffolk Raising the Bar Awards last night where Shaun spoke of his challenges in life and how he sets himself goals – inspirational stuff.

Today the news will be breaking that Deborah Cadman the Suffolk County Council Chief Executive is leaving us for a new role as Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

She told me last week that she was being considered and was offered the job on Friday.  I shall personally be very sad to see her leave but fully understand the exciting challenge and thus reasons for her move.

Deborah has been outstanding, leading our Staff these past 6 years, she steadied the ship when she arrived and has lead the team through major staff reductions and changes in the way they work together and with our partners across Suffolk. Her impact in her time with us cannot be underestimated. Educational attainment levels in Suffolk are now significantly higher, with 86% of schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. Over £200 million of essential budget savings have been delivered and staff morale is much higher than when Deborah joined us in 2011.

Today Deborah and I will present to the Cabinet and Senior officer team senior a draft paper which turns our Conservative County election manifesto into corporate priorities, her enthusiasm for this and her vision as we plan with our partners for our great county has been exceptional.  Deborah’s ability to lead partnership working will be something that WMCA will benefit from immensely as it forms its strategies for the long term as well as the short term.

I always knew this day would come.  I know she will not mind me saying that last year I managed to persuade her to remain with us when Government offered her a top job and in part that was because at the time there was the prospect of a Norfolk and Suffolk Combined Authority.  She was as disappointed as I was, that we did not manage to capture the imagination of all the councils in Norfolk to the concept.  So, her move to a Combined Authority that did form!, is no surprise to me.

She is going to the most challenging and exciting job in Local Government.  Andy Street the new Mayor of the WMCA has had a glittering career in Retail as the former CE of John Lewis but is new to the bear pit of politics which is the West Midlands.  I have undertaken work with officers in Birmingham and Sandwell and know some of the areas Leaders that make up the WMCA and if I pondered how complex the Norfolk and Suffolk CA was going to be, it has nothing on the complexity of those Councils working together with a Mayor.

I have known Deborah a long time firstly when she was CE of St. Edmunds Borough Council and in her time as CE of the East Anglian Regional Development Agency.  Funny story is that I was on the original panel who recruited her to the SCC role however for some domestic reason, she was first up and I missed her interview but at the end of the day’s other interviews I voted for her to get the job, she has and is one of this country’s stars of Local Government and blends her considerable operational skills with a deep understanding of the political ‘side of the coin’, as well.

Her personal support of me these past two years as I have started my Leadership role has been brilliant and at a very difficult time for me last summer when my father died in sudden circumstances, I shall long remember her kindness.

Suffolk’s lose is the West Midlands Combined Authority and its new Mayor’s gain.

Deborah is a Brummie and so is returning home, but I know she and Geoff will keep their Suffolk connections where she has forged much of her career and I wish her all the very best.

Deborah will be with us for much of the next three months as we careful plan her exit and together we will make arrangement with our excellent senior officer team, one of whom will cover the CE role as we go out to recruit a new CE.  I know from some of those excellent candidates who I hope will apply that we will have a rich pool of talent to pick our next Chief Executive.

Grenfell Tower

A few days ago we all witnessed on our TV screens the terrible devastation and loss of life when something goes badly wrong in our system.  Grenfell Tower fire should not have happened.  To hear the harrowing tales of those who survived and see the pictures of those who did not, your heart simply goes out to people at this time and words fail us all.  But like everyone, we want answers.

I am a builder in my blood and I was a shocked as anyone that a building could be refurbished with materials that failed so tragically in this day and age.  That should not happen.

Worse still, is that Residents have been raising concerns about other aspects of the infrastructure and fire safety of the building, and appear to have been ignored.  That should not happened.

All too often recently, we again saw our outstanding emergency services rushing into horror as people ran for their lives.  However, it appears in the aftermath, the emergency planning and response by the council was poor.  That should not have happened – one of our County Council’s guiding principles is that we are there in an emergency.

So there are lessons to be learnt and here in Suffolk we are already seeking to learn them.  The Suffolk Fire Service has been out reassuring residents giving them information about the fire safety in the few hi rise blocks we have here in Suffolk.  They, alongside District officers have been making extensive check of the fire precautions and testing of equipment has been stepped up.  There are 14 residential blocks over 8 storeys high and 13 with between over 4 & 8 storeys in Suffolk.

However, Suffolk County Council is not a housing provider and it’s a mixed picture of ownership of these buildings across Suffolk, but today I will be written to the providers of each of the blocks stressing to them, the need to make sure that they work with Residents, building control and our Fire Officers to make sure all of our residents are as safe as they can be.  Our Fire officers are not aware of any building that have the same cladding system as that of Grenfell Tower but those checks continue.

At Suffolk Public Sector Leader’s next meeting we will be reviewing our emergency plans across all of our Councils to make sure as a Suffolk family if something happens we can be sure that the system is there to help immediately to support and protect people and in the longer term should it be needed.

As the questions get answered and new advice and legislation is produced we will to make sure all advice is adhered across Suffolk make sure that residents are as safe in their homes as they can be, irrespective of living in a sheltered bungalow or a High Rise building.

Much of the work our great fire fighters do is about prevention.  So I will leave you with one simple but vitally important question.  Do you have a smoke alarm?  If you do have you checked it recently?  Test it now – just to be sure.

Vote Conservative!

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Today is a simple decision, who is best to lead this country over the Brexit negotiations.

Therese May or Jeremy Corbyn in a rag tag coalition.

The NHS and Social Care are massive issues we face and in my role as the County Council Network National Spokesperson for Health and Social Care Integration I know myself and my colleagues are working hard to find how, with a Conservative Government and our MPs, we deliver a fair and affordable system for our Ageing Population.  But the bedrock of the NHS and Social Care is our economy.  The bedrock of funding for schools is our economy.  The bedrock of every single thing we do is our economy and its success. And over the next 5 years our Brexit negotiations will determine our economy for the next 25 years.

So today vote Conservative for a strong and stable Government able to negotiate the best Brexit we can achieve.

Today is really important.

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