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.
I was interested to see that the Borough Council are intending to launch a bid to gain City status for Ipswich.
This will be a highly competitive national process with only one place being granted new City status to coincide with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year.
I can definitely see that there could be some practical benefits associated with Ipswich becoming a City. However, I do also believe that bound up within this matter are complicated issues to do with local identity that many of my constituents feel differently about.
Ultimately for the bid to be successful I think it’s an absolute must that there is clear public support from the people of Ipswich for the bid. The reality is that we’re going to be up against many different areas where there is clear and enthusiastic public support.
Last week I carried out my own poll which I promoted on social media and which 1000s took part in. I note also that the Ipswich Star carried out its own poll which likely had a higher participation rate that my own one. In my poll 66% rejected the City status bid and 70% rejected it in the Ipswich Star poll.
I take the point that these are hardly scientific polls but ultimately, they’re all we’ve got to go on as it stands. And when I add to it the fact that it’s rarely ever been brought up on the doorstep with me nor in correspondence, I simply don’t think that I’m in a position to say with any degree of confidence that City status is what my constituents want.
I say all this knowing that Ipswich Central strongly back City status. I do sympathise with many of the reasons why local businesses see City status and bringing economic benefits to the Town.
However, bearing in mind this is a significant change from the status quo I think the burden is on those who want to change the status quo to provide evidence of significant support from across the community at every level.
I appreciate that the Borough council have said the bid wouldn’t cost much money or be a distraction from key priorities, but if it were to be done properly it almost certainly would be. And if we weren’t to do it properly what would be the point of doing it?
I don’t think it’s fair to brand those people who are happy for Ipswich to remain a Town as not being ambitious for the place where they live. I can see both sides of the argument and could well see a time in the future where we could really unite together as a community to push for City status. I just don’t see now as being that time.
Ipswich is a great place to live and I’m incredibly proud to represent one of this country’s oldest Towns in Parliament. We don’t need to be a City to achieve what we want to achieve and just because we’re not a City it doesn’t mean we’re a lesser place to, say, Norwich or Chelmsford. Of course, I’d argue we’re a far better place.
My number one focus is and will continue to be addressing all the major issues there are across Town and working with the Borough Council, Ipswich Central and other key partners to deliver the £25 million Town Deal projects whilst keeping an eye open for new opportunities for investment.” — Tom Hunt MP
It really is looking like bridge closures due to strong winds are a thing of the past.
The first time the new 40pmh speed limit on the bridge will be in use. Likely to be the case tomorrow as well. Very pleased that the major disruption associated with bridge closures will be avoided.
This new much more sensible approach which has been made possible by the new electronic signs was a v long time coming but I for one am glad its here.
On the whole, I think this is a really good budget for Ipswich. Clearly there are two items that are specific to Ipswich and the local area that stand out. Firstly, the £25 million that was announced for the Ipswich Town Deal that will fund 11 projects across the Town. These projects have now been confirmed having previously gone out for public consultation and I look forward to working closely with Dr Dan Poulter and other members of the Town Deal Board to turn these projects into a reality and a positive legacy for the Town.
Having Freeport East confirmed as one of the first freeports in the country was also great news. All in all, around 6,000 of my constituents are either directly or indirectly employed by the Port of Felixstowe and I’m very excited about what the implications of the Port being a freeport could mean for skills, jobs and investment in the area.
More generally however, I was also very pleased to see the significant amount of new support for businesses. Particularly the hospitality sector that has been so badly impacted by the pandemic. The recovery grants and the positive news regarding VAT, business rates and duties may well end up being a lifeline for many.
I signed a few letters ahead of the budget with other MPs. I signed one calling for the £20 increase in Universal Credit to be extended for as long as the pandemic and its effects go on for. I’m pleased it was confirmed today that the increase has been extended for 6 months. I also signed a letter calling for fuel duty to be frozen. I’m pleased that it was confirmed today that it has been frozen for a record 10th consecutive year.
I also believe that the decision to extend the furlough scheme until the autumn is wise. Hopefully by the time it ends, the economy will have had a good few months to really kick off following the end of the restrictions and we can safeguard as many of those jobs as possible.
Clearly, over the coming years the Chancellor is going to have to make a number of tough decisions to repay the huge debts we’ve incurred fighting this pandemic. He made a start today in outlining some of the ways he plans to do this. However, I was pleased that in outlining his approach to increasing Corporation Tax over time he is acutely sensitive to the need to not hit smaller businesses.
Back in May, the landlords of the Arcade Tavern pub got in touch with me to highlight the despicable behaviour of their insurance company. I raised in Parliament today how this insurer is refusing to pay out on the Arcade Tavern’s insurance against notifiable diseases by blaming the Government for the pub’s loss of income rather than Covid-19. And using technicalities in the contract’s wording to get out of paying.
This has left the Arcade Tavern facing the double burden of this pandemic while also having to fight for the money they’re entitled to. I’ve already written to the Chancellor and the insurance company in question about this case, but so far nothing has budged and it was appropriate to call out what’s happened to the Arcade Tavern in the Chamber today, and urge the Government to look very unfavourably on insurers who don’t honour their contracts. This mustn’t go without consequence when the pressure on pubs and other businesses in Ipswich has never been greater.
The Arcade Tavern is one of my favourite pubs in Ipswich and it’s not right they’re having to fight for this money when they did the responsible thing by taking out insurance. This case does have all the hallmarks of the small business being stitched up by the bigger one, and the Business Minister was right to describe it as incredibly concerning. I’ll be sharing the letters I’ve received from the Arcade Tavern directly with the Minister so this case can be looked into directly. I won’t let this drop.
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.
Visited the Mansion and Ipswich Museum yesterday to hear about plans to acquire new funding to make significant investments in the offerings over the next couple of years. Significant opportunities for improvements particularly at the Museum where I believe there is greater capacity to tell the story of the Town particularly over the recent past. Would be good to have strong focus on all the different parts of the Town and communities and how they all came to be. There is a slight focus on this towards the end of the Museum exhibition but could be a lot more.
Would be interested to hear all your views. There is currently a public consultation ongoing regarding future plans.