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.
On Monday I met with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution about preventing suicidal behaviour on the Orwell Bridge and how those at risk on the Bridge can be helped. Every suicide and every time someone goes up on the Bridge with suicidal thoughts is a tragedy and we must take every possible step to ensure the authorities can intervene before the worst happens.
One of the issues raised with me by the Institution was their understanding that cameras on the Bridge, which could spot people at risk, aren’t currently working. Any cameras need to be consistently monitored as well. And I’ve now written to Highways England’s CEO calling for this to be look into. As well as the Orwell Bridge, we also need a local approach to looking at other potential sites where people could be at risk and what we can do to make sure the chance to help isn’t missed. The Institution have also said the number of incidents on the Bridge have increased since the first lockdown. Clearly with the new national lockdown and more restrictions on people’s ability to see loved-ones and potentially more pressure on their finances in the run up to Christmas, we have to do everything we can now.
I’m also looking to raise this issue as part of my work on Ipswich’s Transport Taskforce and its engagement with Highways England. We must ensure this issue is prioritised locally. This will be a focus for me over the coming days and weeks. I’ll keep working with the local branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution based in Harwich which is mainly made up of volunteers who respond with lifeboats if someone is at risk on the Orwell Bridge. And of course I’ll continue working with organisations like Suffolk MIND and our local NHS to ensure everything is being done to stop anyone getting to the place where they feel their only option is take their own life.
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.
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.
I have now received an email in response to my letter to City University about the wind tunnel. I am glad that it looks like the appropriate work in relation to the Orwell Bridge will now take place next month which should allow the timetable regarding the introduction of the new speed limit that will help keep the bridge open during windy spells to be hit. This is all rather protracted but I will continue to keep my eye on things and update.
Once this final validation is secured that its safe to keep the bridge open during windy spells with a new 40pmh speed limit then we will move a big step forward towards ending the chaos associated with constant bridge closures
Following my meeting with Highways England earlier this month, today I asked the Secretary of State for International trade to work with HE to implement their plan to end closures of the Orwell Bridge by the end of this year. With the Port of Felixstowe, East Anglia should be at the heart of our country’s ambitious trade plans but that potential won’t be fully realised until road freight and our town aren’t brought to a standstill when it’s windy.
This issue deserves national attention and I hope the Secretary of State will recognise the national significance of getting the 40 mph speed limit solution in place as soon as possible and pull all necessary strings to ensure that happens. I’ve written already to City University to ask them to move ahead as quickly as possible to complete the additional safety work in their currently closed wind tunnel. But I’ll keep raising this issue at the highest levels to ensure that it’s treated with the urgency needed and the timeline doesn’t slip.
Following last week’s meeting with Highways England on implementing the speed limit solution to the closures of the Orwell Bridge, I have now written to City University of London about the urgency of getting their wind tunnel up and running to complete the final safety checks.
The wind tunnel is currently closed and I do have concerns that this could become an issue which causes the timeline for implementing the solution to slip. That’s why it’s important we get on top of this now.
I appreciate that City University is dealing with Covid-19 pressures but I have asked the President of the University to ensure that work starts on this important piece of work as soon as possible. We mustn’t go into the windiest months of another year without a solution in place.