During the 2017 General Election I made it absolutely clear that I support an Ipswich Northern Bypass, and would do whatever I could to make it happen. Within weeks of entering Parliament I had set up a meeting with a civil servant in the Department of Transport to discuss what was possible and how I should go about promoting the case for a northern road.
I asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, and/or the then roads Minister Jesse Norman. After my repeated mentions in the House of Commons of my concerns about the congestion in Ipswich when the Orwell Bridge is closed, and of the economic importance to the whole country of maintaining a smooth flow of trade along the A14, I finally secured a meeting with Jesse Norman, alongside Suffolk’s Conservative MPs. Chris Grayling never showed any interest in our situation, whereas Jesse Norman was certainly interested in what I, and other local MPs, had to say. I cannot be sure whether that interest stimulated the County Council to produce the proposal on which we are now being consulted, but it may well have done.
I have also met with various County Councillors and officers including the Leader of the Council – most recently on 28th of June. There are many things I disagree with the Conservative administration at Suffolk County Council about. But on this issue we agree on the basic principles.
This should not be a party-political issue – it is about the prosperity of Ipswich, and of Suffolk as a whole. I think it’s rather sad that Ipswich Conservatives should try to make out that I am not doing enough to promote it. The fact is, if it gets turned down that will be either because the Conservative County Council has not made a good enough case, or because the Conservative Government has not put up the money to build it. But I will continue to do everything I can to get the best possible scheme.
I have written to the new Secretary of State for Transport and the new Roads Minister asking them to meet me to discuss this road of national importance. I have continued to discuss the progress of the scheme with the Borough Council and the County Council. And I have visited the exhibition, and spoken to some of the opponents of the road to try to find out how I can allay their fears – a far more constructive approach than just calling them NIMBYs.
There are committed environmentalists in and out of Ipswich who oppose all new road-building because we have a climate emergency on our hands. I share those concerns, but I believe they are completely outweighed by the following factors:
- There is a desperate shortage of housing for young families in Ipswich. New houses in North Ipswich will be built, whether or not we get a new northern Ipswich road. But if we don’t get the road, the already intolerable level of rat-running in Castle Hill and Whitton – and in the villages – will just get a whole lot worse.
- I want this road to progress, and I am disappointed by the two-year delay. But it is unrealistic to expect it to be built before 2027. By that time, we need to have moved over to zero-emission cars and lorries. An incoming Labour Government will hugely accelerate that change, so new cars using the new road will not be causing pollution. And the County’s figures show that existing vehicles will cause less pollution on the new road, because there will be less congestion.
- Air quality in various parts of Ipswich is not good, especially in Norwich Road and Chevallier Street. Congestion in the town centre puts people off from walking or cycling or taking the bus. We need to help people change how they travel in our town, and to do that we need to enable cars and lorries to avoid the town centre.
- The Orwell Bridge has been closed 8 times in the past 3 years for high winds, but it has also been fully or partially closed as the result of 168 accidents over the past eight years, most of which have happened during the peak period, bringing Ipswich and the A14 to a grinding halt. Felixstowe is the pre-eminent container port in the UK, and the sixth biggest in Europe. If shipping companies decide to move their trade elsewhere because of the unreliability of the roads, hundreds of jobs could be lost and freight might have to travel further distances in order to find less congested routes. Hutchison Ports have assured me they want to increase the containers travelling by rail from around 40% to around 60%, but there will still be the need for a substantial number of containers travelling by road to destinations which are not practical by rail. Without a viable alternative for when the Orwell Bridge is closed, Felixstowe could lose business to the Thames, or even to Rotterdam or Hamburg.
Ipswich needs a northern road. Suffolk needs Ipswich to have a northern road. We all need to do more to protect our environment, but refusing a north Ipswich road won’t help. If the road does not get built, I can assure you that it will not be for want of me trying.