On Wednesday evening I attended a presentation from the Suffolk MPs and the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to the Secretary of State for Transport, to try to get him to see the importance of investing in the A14. The Government is spending around £1.5 billion to build a completely new A14 around Cambridge, so it seems daft not to spend the £150 million – less than one tenth of the Cambridge project – needed to improve the junctions and poor sections of the A14 in Suffolk. The Copdock interchange is of particular concern to Ipswich – not only does it often take ages to get across the junction into or out of Ipswich, but queues up the slip-roads can produce dangerous tail-backs on the A14 itself.
There are many issues where I do not agree with the Conservative MPs in Suffolk, but we are all united on this – it matters to Ipswich and to the economy of Suffolk to do away with the time wasted by traffic congestion, it matters to everyone to make our roads safe, and traffic-jams do not help the environment either. And the A14 really matters to the whole of the UK because Felixstowe accounts for 40% of all the containers in the country.
I will also continue to push for the rail line from Felixstowe to the Midlands to be improved, to take lorries off our roads, to divert freight trains away from the busy London mainline, and to help the environment. We should do everything we can to get as many freight containers onto rail as possible, but there will always be the need for some lorries, and so the A14 needs to be fit for purpose.
I am convinced that the importance of the A14 was one of the main arguments used to get government funding for the big Upper Orwell Crossing bridge. Presumably some of the traffic that currently travels from north-east Ipswich, out to the A14 and over the Orwell Bridge, was meant to travel down Cauldwell Hall Road and along Cliff Lane and use “Ben’s bridge” instead. And when the Orwell Bridge had to be shut, lorries would presumably be diverted along Landseer Road and over the bridge and back down Wherstead Road. It wouldn’t have been fair to all the people living in those streets, and other streets such as Station Street in Old Stoke, or Luther Road, or Nacton Road, to bring all that additional traffic into the town. And the bridge would have done nothing to help one of the most polluted parts of Ipswich, around Norwich Road and Chevalier Street.
That’s why I said right from the start that it would be far more sensible to spend the money on a northern bypass rather than on a bridge to nowhere over the docks. As it turned out, not only was there a lot of opposition to the bridge from local people, but it was also far more expensive than the County Council predicted, and so the project has now been dropped.
I am really pleased that the County Council has listened to me, and to the Borough Council, and to the businesses represented by the Chamber of Commerce and the Ipswich Vision Board, and pledged to allocate the remainder of the money they would have spent on the big bridge on the two smaller bridges to the wet-dock island instead. The Waterfront is the centre of attraction for the regeneration of our town, and making the island an exciting and thriving place will give our town a huge additional boost.
That leaves £77 million that the Government said they would spend on the Upper Orwell Crossing. Some people say this money has been “lost” but it was never going to be spent anyway because the rest of the finance for the bridge just wasn’t there. We must now go back to the Government and show them that the need – to relieve the pressure on the Orwell Bridge and provide an alternative when it closes – can best be met by investing in a North Ipswich road.
A new road must reduce air pollution by taking traffic out of our town. I believe it needs to be close to the town so that it can be useful for Ipswich drivers, not stuck out in the countryside where it would do maximum environmental damage. And it needs to be started soon, so that Ipswich and the UK can put the nightmare of gridlock when the Orwell Bridge closes firmly behind us.