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

Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

New trains for all!

Abellio imageGreat news yesterday that the new rail franchise confirms Abellio Greater Anglia be responsible for delivering rail services in Suffolk and throughout East Anglia over the next nine years, I said in a press release: “Having a commitment to deliver both Ipswich in 60 and Norwich in 90 as part of the new franchise award is a significant achievement. Its inclusion is a testament to the patient, persistent campaigning and real team work, particularly from MPs Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith, Mark Pendlington and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, local councillors and members of the public”.

Like the Oscars there are so many people to thank but throughout the key messages of new rolling stock, the punchy Ipswich in 60 and Norwich in 90 campaign and the need to better link Ipswich and Cambridge, Cambridge to Norwich have all been well made and are reflected in the detail of the new franchise.

So now Abellio must can get on with ordering new trains and improving the journey times and their punctuality.  They must improve the connects to Lowestoft and in partnership improve services to Kings Lynn and make the stations nicer places to be and improve the car parking capacity so people can arrive at stations and park. Councils and the NALEP for our part must also delivery and help invest in sorting out the bottle neck of Ely and some of the single track sections that so hamper capacity.

Not everyone is pleased with Abellio winning the contact and a number of people have said its reward for failure over the past 4 years and for anyone who daily has to use the Norwich and Ipswich trains I can completely understand their frustration but to be very fair to Abellio until they were awarded this franchise of 9 years, beyond a little window dressing, how could they invest in new trains costing billions? Some of the problems on the lines, as we all know, are simply beyond their control and the rolling stock they inherited is so old.  I can remember when I first used to get the train from Stowmarket to London in the mid 80’s the rolling stock was not exactly new then and some of it is the same stock!

This is the beginning of a huge challenge for Abellio Greater Anglia.  Over the next nine years they need to make good on the promises they have made. They make some very clear commitments to speed up journey times and significantly improve on what customers currently experience, including introducing new trains. I know from conversations yesterday, we all will continue to work with and challenge Abellio Greater Anglia and Network Rail to ensure Suffolk’s residents see the improvement in services we all want and frankly for what we pay to travel, deserve.

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