On Wednesday, once again the Orwell Bridge was closed by high winds. Once again the centre of Ipswich was gridlocked by through-traffic. Lorries and cars – but predominantly lorries – sat in our town, often for over an hour, their engines running and their drivers becoming increasingly angry. Delivery companies, cab and taxi-drivers, haulage companies and anyone whose business relies on the ability to drive in Ipswich, were haemorrhaging money. And streets which are already polluted, such as Chevalier Street, were bathed in a haze of nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, diesel particulates and other dangerous pollutants.
Over the coming years, politicians of all persuasions have a job to do to reduce the congestion in our streets. I welcome the development of cleaner cars, buses and lorries, but however clean they may be they will still create congestion in our town unless we learn to use them better. We need to walk more, we need to cycle more, we need to encourage young people to walk and cycle more, and we need to use the bus when it is convenient. We still need better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, though these have improved a lot over the last 20 years – in particular there are still places where it is difficult for pedestrians to cross the road and junctions which are daunting for all but the most confident cyclists. We need more frequent buses, not fewer, and we need to reopen the Park & Ride at Bury Rd. We need the finances to be right – young people especially need to be able to afford to travel by bus and I still deplore the cancellation of the eXplore card. People in training and retired volunteer workers should also get free bus travel.
But the issue with the Orwell Bridge is not about alternative means to travel, but about an alternative route. There were winds in excess of 70mph on the Orwell Bridge yesterday, and it would have been dangerous to keep it open. It doesn’t have to close that often for high winds, but taken together with maintenance and accidents the number of days of closure are enough to make a real difference. We need a viable alternative, and that doesn’t mean a route through Ipswich.
The lorries and cars that are forced to drive through Ipswich when it is closed do not want to be here at all, and surely the best alternative has to be one which prevents them from having to drive into the town in the first place. As the majority of lorries travelling up from Felixstowe are going to the Midlands and the North, it makes perfect sense to divert them around the north of our town. That means a new road. Currently the diversion route is so gridlocked so quickly that drivers naturally find every alternative they can, including going via the Novotel roundabout and via Norwich Road and Chevalier Street. I am certain that investment in a new road to the north of Ipswich would pay for itself simply in terms of the savings to haulage companies operating out of Felixstowe, let alone the savings in health and disruption to the residents of Ipswich.
The other alternative that is offered for the bridge closures is a new bridge across from Cliff Quay to Old Stoke. Leaving aside the cost, leaving aside the increased noise and pollution from lorries climbing up the incline to the top of the bridge and then down the other side, leaving aside the massive increase in traffic flows in Landseer Road and Wherstead Road and Cliff Lane and Station Street, how many lorry drivers will actually use this alternative? Just how attractive will a journey be through the already-congested Nacton interchange, down Nacton Road and Landseer Road, queueing to get onto the Bridge, and then back down Wherstead Road to the A14?
I am still not convinced that the case has been made for the “Upper Orwell Crossing”. It has not been cancelled and there will be a full public consultation on the plans in the autumn. It is not my decision as to whether to build it, my role is simply to speak up for the concerns that Ipswich residents have. But I am convinced that the answer to the regular closures of the Orwell Bridge is a new road to the north of Ipswich and I will continue to speak up for that whenever I get the chance.