An ambitious river crossing project in Ipswich has been scrapped by Suffolk County Council after it said it had failed to secure the necessary funding. The infrastructure project commenced in 2015, but the council now says that the Upper Orwell Crossing project cannot proceed as it is unaffordable – despite having already spent £8 million.
The scheme was originally predicted to cost in the region of £97 million, and a £77 million central government grant was pledged towards the costs of the project. However, a later independent review undertaken by Jacobs Consultancy estimated the total costs would be closer to £139 million. The consultants cited higher than predicted ground investigation costs, changes to the design of the bridges, and unexpected procurement costs.
Suffolk County Council has been unsuccessful in its efforts to secure the additional funding required to complete the bridge project, and has said that the scheme will be halted with immediate effect. The council now plans to build two smaller crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, and has said that it would honour its prior pledge to provide up to £10.8 million for the new project.
The original crossing proposals – which would have seen two new road bridges and an improved pedestrian and cyclist crossing – were intended to be part of a broader regeneration of the town, which has included extensive redevelopment around the docks and waterfront area in particular. The council said that the proposed river crossings, which were due to begin construction next year and complete by 2023, would improve journey times in and around Ipswich, and act as a catalyst for economic growth for the town’s south side.
A mixed response
Reactions to the scrapping of the council’s plans have been mixed. The proposals had been controversial, and local campaign groups have expressed their relief at the decision. The Rivers Action Group (RAG) and Wherstead Road Action Group (WRAG) had previously raised concerns that, rather than solving local traffic problems, the new bridges would create heavy traffic congestion and “rat runs” in the area.
Nicky Wilson, chairman of WRAG, told the Ipswich Star that the decision to axe the plans was a “victory for common sense”. He added: “Myself and other local residents can rest easy knowing that they will not be faced with falling house prices, a negative impact on our environment and increased chances of accidents. My mind boggles that this project was allowed to go so far and so much taxpayer money was wasted.”
However, others have expressed regret at the cancellation of the project. Terry Hunt, chairman of Ipswich Vision, said: “This is deeply disappointing news, although not entirely unexpected. The Upper Orwell Crossings have been an integral part of the regeneration strategy for Ipswich for a number of years. It is now essential that partners and other parties work together to deliver the two smaller bridges, which will open up the key Island Site for potential development.”
The Mortgage Centres view
With too much uncertainty surrounding Brexit and any possible future impact on costs, it perhaps comes as no great surprise that major investments in such projects are being shelved. Whilst opinions have been split in regard to the value the crossing would bring to the town, it is without doubt a shame that a large investment for Ipswich is not to go ahead, and there will undoubtedly be concerns about the knock-on effect this could have on the wider growth and development of the area.
Image credit: Foster + Partners