I was pleased to be notified today that I have secured a special debate in the House of Commons Chamber on closures of the Orwell Bridge. It will take place next Thursday. This is the second time I will have led an adjournment debate since I was elected, the first one was orthopaedic services at Ipswich Hospital.
I hope this time holding the debate leads to a more positive outcome! I’m determined to keep this issue at the top of the agenda until Highways England implement the recommendations from their report and we know that having done so will mean that frequent closures of the bridge are a thing of the past. A Government Transport Minister will be present at the debate.
Highways England have completed their safety validation work so we at least now know that at some point soon we will touch wood be turning our back on frequent closures of the Orwell Bridge. However I remain dissatisfied with how long this has all taken and I will continue to push for the new measures to be implemented as soon as possible. Following pressure that has been applied it now seems likely that Highways England may be working to deliver the changes ahead of the end of March deadline they set themselves a few weeks ago.
I was promised in January that they would deliver the changes at the start of winter not the end. Next week I will be meeting with the Roads Minister to discuss the timeline for delivery. I will provide more updates soon.
Yesterday I teamed up with Jonathan Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, to press the Government for more funding for potholes. Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent are similar in that they’re both urban areas but we don’t get the proportionate levels of funding for road repairs compared to larger metropolitan centres. We also lose out compared to rural areas where the current funding formula puts more emphasis on road length than it does on things like heavy traffic wearing away at our roads in urban areas.
In the debate I specifically mentioned the need for more funding to fix up our roads in parts of town like Chantry, Gainsborough and Rushmere (but I appreciate there are big issues with pavement and road quality across town). And how this isn’t just an important issue for road safety but it’s also about how we should have roads which reflect the pride people have in their local communities and our commitment as elected representatives to leave no street or neighbourhood feeling left behind.
Since I was elected I’ve been out and about across the town flagging potholes and road and pavement surfaces in need of repair with Suffolk County Council. And I’ve also been able to identify a number of road surfaces simply not up to standard through my surveys in Chantry and Ravenswood. Since the summer I’ve been meeting on a monthly basis with the County Council to get detailed updates on road repair schemes in Ipswich and lobby for further ones too. This intensified focus on road repairs in Ipswich is starting to produce results, particularly with the resurfacing of Sheldrake Drive in September. It’s also good to see resurfacing work completed on Avondale Road and Neath Drive and that resurfacing of Stone Lodge Lane West has been locked in for next year.
Clearly there is much more to do across town and that’s why my monthly meetings with the County Council’s Highways Department are crucial. And if there are any road or pavement issues in town you think need raising please email me at email@example.com and I’ll flag them in my next meeting.
I’ll keep fighting both locally and nationally for better roads and pavements for Ipswich which improve pedestrians and road users’ experience and also give local people confidence that their elected officials care as much about their areas as they do.
Written a letter today to the Transport Secretary about Highways England and their performance over the past 2 years or so regarding the Orwell Bridge. In October 2018 they launched a report into what do about bridge closures that was delayed by 6 months and now the timeline for implementing the recommendations of that report has also been significantly delayed. I was promised that a new 40mph speed limit would be introduced ahead of the 2020/2021 winter season but now they are suggesting a completion date of end of March 2021.
I have previously raised before in the House of Commons and am currently applying to hold a special debate in Parliament on the matter. As I mention in the letter I also plan to meet the Transport Secretary.
Ultimately its all of us who have to pay the price for the price for all these broken promises. Not Highways England.
This week I submitted a letter of objection to the planning application to build 98 dwellings on the site behind Ravenswood Primary School. Opposing new affordable housing in Ipswich is not something I take lightly at all. We do need more housing in our town, including more council houses for Ipswich residents. But unfortunately the Borough Council has come forward with plans in this case which would do more harm than good in their current form.
A number of weeks ago I wrote to every resident in Ravenswood about the plans. I received dozens of responses which overwhelmingly objected to them and I felt this letter was an important representation to make as their MP. I don’t have a formal role in the planning process but I share the key concerns many of my constituents have raised.
Ravenswood has successfully established itself as mixed tenure community with around a 65%/35% split between private and council housing spread throughout the estate. But the Borough Council’s plans turn this on its head with over two-thirds of the homes proposed for social rent and all clustered in single area. This does risk undermining part of what has made Ravenswood a success story of integration and the plans need to take into account the community these homes would become a part of. I am pleased that 10 new starter homes have been allocated in these plans for key workers to get their foot on the property ladder, but I do question why it’s only 10. Now more than ever we are in debt to our local key workers and this would be good opportunity to give more of them the chance to buy their first home in the town.
And before any new development goes ahead and more cars are added to the roads there must be better access for the estate to the road network in place. I’ve personally been caught up in the congestion at the Nacton Road roundabout at rush hour and it’s clear that the addition of more cars to this chokepoint puts Ravenswood in real danger of grinding to a complete standstill. I met again with the County Council today to raise this issue after my Ravenswood survey underlined just how disruptive this bottleneck is. But Ipswich Borough also needs to realise this is a quality of life issue for residents and can’t be brushed under the carpet.
I’ve also mentioned in the letter how local homes for local people are crucial source of public trust in this development. If these plans do go ahead I will work with Ipswich Borough Council to make sure all the new council homes go to people with a strong local connection to Ipswich. This means people on the Borough Council’s waiting list who have lived in Ipswich for over 6 years or who’ve had a strong connection to our town for a similar period of time.
The consultation is now closed but I’ll be monitoring these plans very closely going forward as they go to the Planning Committee. I’m working with Ravenswood’s Residents’ Association and local Conservative Councillors to keep making the case that we need more homes in Ipswich but we need to deliver them in a smart way that respects the distinct communities in our town and brings people with us. I’ll be providing more updates over the coming weeks.
Chaired my first Ipswich Transport Taskforce meeting this morning where it was good to receive further reassurances from Highways England that the speed limit solution to the Bridge closures remains on track for this winter.
The exact wording they used was that work on the ground would start in ‘early 2021’, and I’m pushing for this to mean early January so the new speed limit is in place by the end of January. I stressed again to Highways England how this solution can’t come soon enough for Ipswich and drew their attention to my recent transport surveys where thousands of local residents highlighted the disruption as a major issue.
I said when this taskforce was set up it must be focused on delivering results for people in Ipswich and chairing today’s meeting was a good opportunity to hold Highways England to account. I’m making sure that the Orwell Bridge is on every Taskforce agenda going forwards so this scrutiny can continue and the Taskforce is put to good use.
Slightly concerned to learn the safety work in a wind tunnel has been delayed to the end of October after the Transport Secretary told me he was expecting it on his desk by the end of September and I actually helped get this wind tunnel open for the work after it was shut due to Covid-19. I was told today though that this wouldn’t delay the overall project. And I’ve got a further meeting today with Highways England where I’ll be raising all these issues in even more detail. This is a crucial few months for this project and at every stage I’ll be making sure Ipswich is represented.
This morning I asked the Transport Secretary to communicate very clearly to Highways England Ipswich’s expectation that a speed limit solution to the closures is in place before the next windy winter period. The closures of the Orwell Bridge grind our town to a halt and cause immense disruption to residents and businesses alike. And this was something that came across very clearly in the responses to my surveys in Ravenswood and Chantry recently. It was good that in response to my question the Transport Secretary did send the message very clearly to Highways England today that the timetable mustn’t slip.
He also mentioned the safety work being done by Highways England in a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel was closed due to Covid-19 but I was able to get the work prioritised after I sent a letter to the University in question. I’m glad the Transport Secretary is also expecting this on his desk by the end of this month. I’ve got another progress call with Highways England next month where I’ll be sure to raise the results of the wind tunnel work and the timetable. The pressure on Highways England to deliver must be kept up as we reach the crucial point in this campaign.