I have written about the future of train ticket offices this week. Been concerned about the proposals. Pleased that we appear to have got off slightly though. But the devil is always in the detail and the delivery when it comes to these sorts of changes. Our ticket office is being converted to a “Customer Information Centre” where you can still buy tickets. Will be the only one in Suffolk.
A large number of elderly residents and those with disabilities still need to use train ticket offices and it’s important they’re central to the thinking of Greater Anglia, Network Rail and the Department for Transport. I’ve made my views clear.
I don’t like how human interactions are increasingly becoming a thing of the past when it comes to customer service. Call be old fashioned but I think this stuff matters and has implications for the kind of society we live in.
The data suggests that there has been engineering disruption to rail services from Ipswich to London across 35% of weekends over the past year. All I can say is it certainly feels like more than that. At times catching a reliable train at the weekends from Ipswich has felt like a bit of a novelty.
I appreciate that engineering works do need to be carried out from time to time, but I’m not convinced that no stone is left unturned when it comes to minimising disruption for my constituents who wish to use the train service at the weekend. Recent trends seem to confirm that actually the difference between those looking to travel during the week and at weekends is narrowing. Consistently unreliable train services at weekends is not cost free!
All of this disruption linked to rail engineering works is just compounded at the moment by the effects of all the strike action. I met with representatives from Greater Anglia and Network Rail last week to discuss and raise some of my concerns.
A real issue with the rail network though is our poor rail infrastructure. Haughley junction and Ely North junction are two crucial projects that should have been delivered many years ago. It’s crucial that the Department for Transport really starts to prioritise both projects, and I will intensify my efforts to convince the Government of the merits. Delivering both projects would greatly increase the capacity of the rail network in the East and lead to a significant improvement in the reliability and speed of train services and would also mean that things like an hourly service between Ipswich and Peterborough could be delivered.
I have frequent contact with both Greater Anglia and Network Rail, so please let me know if ever there is a specific issue you would like me to raise with them.
The Suffolk Devolution deal was officially agreed with Government Minister Lee Rowley this afternoon. This involves a significant amount of new funding for Suffolk and powers. Particularly over skills and things like adult education. It will include a £480 million investment fund over 30 years.
This does represent in my view an opportunity for Suffolk and Ipswich. It must be taken.
In principle I’ve always believed in decisions being taken as closely as possible to the people affected by those decisions.
Suffolk will only ever achieve its true potential if Ipswich achieves its true potential. The new devolution settlement for Suffolk must involve a strong focus on Ipswich. I will work with whoever I need to in order to try and ensure that.
I’m hoping this new model will help us get more investment into key infrastructure projects. Whether road or rail. There is much to be done.
Part of this will involve a new democratically elected leader of Suffolk County Council.
I’ve met more than once with the new Minister responsible for fire safety and cladding, Lee Rowley, over the past week. We have discussed the situation at Cardinal Lofts and I’ve also brought him fully up to speed as he’s new to his post on the scandalous situation at St Francis Tower.
This photo is from last week but I met again with him today and will be doing so again later this week.
He’s been responsive on the Cardinal Lofts issue and I’m hopeful that he’ll finally bring forward some concerted Government action on the St Francis Tower issue.
Whether it’s the renovation of the former merchant house at 4 College Street or the current rail engineering works that are taking place at the weekend, I think we are all prepared to put up with some degree of disruption. I welcome the fact that a building of historic importance to the Town is being renovated and being brought back into use, and that important enhancement works are taking place on the track between Ipswich and London.
However, whilst acknowledging that these improvements need to take place, I’m sure we’re all keen to know that every step has been taken to minimise the level of disruption that is caused to Ipswich residents.
I for one am keen for assurances that no stone has been left unturned when it comes to looking for ways to minimising disruption to the lives of my constituents while necessary improvement works or engineering works are carried out. Sadly, when it comes to both the renovation work at 4 College Street and the weekend rail engineering works, I do not think this has been the case. My view is that more disruption has been caused than necessary.
With regards to the former Merchant House on College Street, I think it’s very disappointing that a building of such historical importance has been allowed to descend into a state of disrepair to begin with.. For decades it’s been allowed to sit gathering dust, with an elegant historic building gradually turning into an eyesore. Sadly, we know that there are many other similar case studies across Town. Though the reasons behind all of this are quite complex and its impossible to lay the blame at one particular authority or political Party, I do think that a Labour led Borough Council lacking in both dynamism and vision has been a contributing factor.
However, we are where we are, and I welcomed the news that the Borough Council have finally decided to get on with things, take ownership of the building, and initiate renovation works to bring the former merchant house back into use. Coupled with the planned works to the Paul’s Silo building, funded by the Government’s Town Deal, and greening up of the Novotel roundabout through the Town Deal funded Oasis project, the works should provide a big boost to this part of Town.
When I heard last autumn that a lane would be closed on College Street so that the renovation works could take place my first thought was ‘couldn’t these works have taken place during one of the lockdowns to avoid major disruption’? The building has been owned by the Borough Council since 2016, after all.
Generally though, I just hoped that the works would be completed sooner rather than later so that disruption to my constituents could be minimised. Initially the Borough Council stated that the works would last approximately 12 weeks ending in February, however approximately 5 months later we are still having to put up with major traffic disruption on top of what we’re used to – not to mention all the extra air pollution caused by slow moving and stationary vehicles.
Not to mention the cost – in a letter I received from Cllr Ellesmere, he told me it was costing a total of £14,500 to keep the lane in College Street shut. I wonder if that sum includes all the extra, unforeseen closure time which was not anticipated at the start of the project. This is in addition to the cost to individuals in terms of longer journeys, and to businesses in the Town as the traffic impacts their trade and accessibility.
I’ve received scant information on these works from the Borough Council, but my current understanding is that it’s anticipated that the works won’t be completed until May. My hope is that by putting pressure on the Borough Council we may be able to accelerate things – but we will see.
I understand that complications have been discovered with the former Merchant House that have meant it’s taking longer than anticipated. Bearing in mind the age of the building and the extent to which it had been allowed to get into disrepair, I think its hardly surprising that there are complications. Perhaps this should have been factored into considerations at the start.
Unsurprisingly, a large number of constituents have contacted me about the level of disruption caused. Nearly all are understanding as to why the works need to take place but as every month has passed frustration has grown at the extent of the disruption that has been caused over such a long period of time. Like me, they’re not convinced that no stone has been left unturned when it comes to minimising the disruption and, like me, also have had to factor extra time into their journey to get across Town.
Many have also pointed out to me that they’re never actually seen any works taking place at 4 College Street, which begs the question of whether it has really been necessary to close the lane of one of the busiest roads in central Ipswich for approximately half a year, unabated.
No doubt the Labour leadership of the Borough Council and some of its cheerleaders will try and present a false choice. Either you support bringing these sorts of historic buildings back into use and you accept all the major disruption without question, or you’re against the concept of bringing buildings such as the former Merchant’s House into use. But as I say, this would be a false choice.
The vast majority of us agree that it’s a good thing that historic buildings such as the former Merchant’s House are brought back into use, and we accept that some renovation works will need to take place and that there could be a degree of disruption. The issue has been the extent of the disruption and a strong sense that a lot of it could have been minimised.
Whether it’s the rail engineering works that are currently taking place or the works at Merchant House, it often seems to be the case that those carrying out the necessary works aren’t sensitive enough to the damage and disruption caused by the works taking place and as a consequence don’t always place enough importance on taking all possible steps to keep the disruption down to an absolute minimum.
It won’t be long until the current works in question are complete – and I look forward to the result of the works – but with the current mindset my concern is that there will be more and more disruption across Town that is more severe than it needs to be, as more and more historic buildings that have been allowed to gather dust for far too long are finally brought back into use.