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

Back to it

August is traditionally the month where local government sort of goes on holiday and thus in September perhaps it’s that back to school feeling after a summer holiday or perhaps having a break means you naturally have a bit more time to ponder the months ahead.

Nationally the new Prime Minister is certainly settling in well and her polling seems to indicate that her Brexit means Brexit stance and her personal mission to address inequality in our society, is going down well with people. Equally, nationally I think many of us on the Conservative side of things watch in amusement at the Labour Party; its lacklustre Leader who seems unable to spot empty unreserved seats on trains, let alone that he is unelectable as a Prime Minister as only the hard left takes him seriously as a potential Leader of our Country. But hang on you say he won’t be there much longer with Leadership ballot papers in the post as the right of the Labour Party has a new champion to slay the left wing beast, oh dear not exactly dynamic is he. If Corbyn remains you can see the real prospect of Labour dividing into two and that will of course through up a local dimension to the mix, the local Labour party, old school hard left or Blairites? One side just wants to spend the County Council reserves until all is gone and the other well……they just want to spend all the county reserves until it’s gone, so from my perspective not much between them.

But of course who knows who they are for or against as locally Labour are keeping their head down desperately hedging their bets ahead of any split that might come. Before Theresa May became PM I openly backed her to win, it’s called standing up and being counted. I do believe you have to make decisions in politics, but hey not always the right ones, just look at my backing of the Remain campaign! But you have to stand up for what you believe in, so come on Sandy Martin and David Elsmere let’s hear from you as to whom you back. Jane Basham and I agree on almost nothing, save you should stand up and be counted, she has declared for Corbyn, oh well.

Interesting few months ahead.

A Euro Hustings

Vicky Ford explaining a point

Vicky Ford explaining a point

Monday morning I started to blog about last Thursday evening, when I went to the East of England Rural Hustings at the NFU Regional Office, jointly hosted by the NFU and the Country Landowners Association (CLA) and then got rather side-tracked into writing about Suffolk County Council’s Farm Strategy.

What I was meant to blog about was the debate that took place between the candidates and the responses to the audience’s questions.

Each of the main parties put up a candidate or in the case of the Greens a speaker in the form of my fellow Suffolk County Councillor Andrew Stringer. In fact Suffolk was rather well represented as my old sparring partner Labour’s Suffolk County Council opposition Leader Sandy Martin, who is number 3 on Labour’s slate, represented them. For the Liberals they put up their one MEP Andrew Duff, UKIP was represented by their MEP Stuart Agnew and for the Conservatives was Vicky Ford one of our leading MEP. So a reasonable heavy weight panel and they were faced with an articulate and knowledgeable group of Farmers.

In many ways the debate settled into party lines. Andrew Stringer did his best but Greens do rather annoy hard headed farmers with their ‘agri’ peace and love messages when essentially farmers are more focused on crop yields. Sandy Martin held his own and made some reasonable points only slightly stumped when faced with more technical questions about the chemical controls emanating from Brussels. But the main battle was between the existing MEPs who clearly have spent their euro parliamentary careers in this sort of company and know how to weave their way through the industry specific issues and make their points about Europe and the European Parliament.

And in some ways the themes on the night are the nub of the European question. On the one hand you have the ‘isn’t Europe great’ from the Liberals. Then there is the Europe is the root of all the ills in our wonderful country from UKIP and the if only we could control our own farm policy, UK farming would soak high about the clouds, but behind me there were distinct mumblings and less than polite words about Whitehall and DEFRA’s track record. As I have blogged before it is in this UKIP message that that if only we could run things ourselves all would be right with the world, that I disagree, it is too simplistic a view and sadly not quite borne out by the realities of life.

From Vicky Ford came her usual whirlwind performance and a clear message that of course Europe is far from perfect, far from where we want it to be, but with a referendum looming we can, and will negotiate a different relationship, for our membership is too important for the federalists in Europe to risk our exit and we will forge a different relationship that only the Conservatives will then put to the people in a referendum to ‘lance’ this question once and for all.

 

Tomorrow is poll day and as I usually do suggest at this time whatever your politics, whatever your views on Europe please do go and vote. It is a hard won right to live in a democracy and one we should respect by the simple act of voting.

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