Last Friday, I walked around the junctions leading into St Helens Street with a traffic engineer, to discuss what could be done to reduce the terrible congestion that everyone approaching the town centre from the North East has faced for years.
Labour has campaigned on this for almost as long as I was a Councillor (20 years, since you ask). I still believe it should be possible to re-open Rope Walk for buses, and that this will not only speed up the journey time for buses and encourage more people to use them, but also free up more road space for cars outside the old County Hall. However, I was not able to persuade the County Council to consider spending the very considerable amount of money it would cost to make this possible. What I believe the County Council will now do is to look sensibly at the junctions along St Helens Street and make the fairly straightforward changes which will make the journey from the Warwick Road junction to Major’s Corner as smooth as possible.
The previous week I was reported in the Star as being “stuck in the traffic” in St Helen’s Street, but as I had taken a photo of the vehicles queueing up almost to the viaduct, that clearly couldn’t have been the case – I was in fact walking home from my office. There’s a serious point here – if everybody in Ipswich made every journey by car, none of us would move at all. It is not anti-car to point out that if the people who need to use a vehicle – elderly, carrying heavy luggage, making deliveries, visiting rural areas – are going to be able to get to work or to where they need to be, then those of us who can should walk, cycle or take the bus. I drive in Ipswich when I need to, and I try not to drive when I don’t need to.
There is still a lot that could be done to make walking and cycling more attractive. New road layouts ought to take cyclists and pedestrians into account: in the case of the new lane in Felixstowe Road I fear that it doesn’t. Pelican crossing timings are often deeply unhelpful too – the one between Cutler Street and Cardinal Park is a particular bugbear of mine. And potholes are particularly difficult and dangerous for cyclists, as well as being a costly nuisance for drivers.
Like the Borough Council Scrutiny Committee, who met last night, I am sceptical about Ipswich getting its fair share of road maintenance money. Our roads are very heavily used, and there are far too many places where the road surface is breaking up – we’re not just talking potholes here. It’s clear that traffic has increased enormously in recent years and roads maintenance simply has not kept up.
Most Ipswich roads are categorised as a low priority by the County Council, making inspection, repair and resurfacing very infrequent. Roads like Renfrew Road, Bridgewater Road or Clapgate Lane are very heavily used and crucial to all forms of transport – it is not good enough just to repair the A-roads. Some concrete roads – such as Hawthorn Drive – have been a problem year after year, and it is about time the County found a more permanent solution.
Although I was glad the County Council wanted to hear what I had to say last Friday, they need to listen more to all of Ipswich’s residents. That’s why representative groups, including buses, taxis, cycling and disabled, ought to have a chance to influence the priority in which roads are resurfaced. And the County should consult and inform the public through Area Committees, and take local knowledge seriously.
The Upper Orwell Crossing is frozen with a £43 million gap in its funding. I don’t believe the extra money will be found. But I never believed the bridge would help relieve congestion in Ipswich anyway. It would have increased traffic in Nacton Road, Landseer Road, Clapgate Lane, Cliff Lane, Station Street, Wherstead Road, Luther Road – all residential streets with several schools. If the big bridge is dropped we still need the County’s financial commitment to the Wet Dock island bridges. And I still firmly believe we need a Northern bypass, taking lorries out of the town altogether, especially when the Orwell Bridge is shut. Recognition of this issue in the Department of Transport is gradually growing, partly due to my lobbying, and I’m certainly not going to give up campaigning for it now.