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Responses and statements on the publishing of the Strategic Outline Business Case

A Statement from Cllr. Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council on the Ipswich Northern Route.

Since Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders (SPSL) first took the decision to pursue development of an Ipswich Northern Route (INR), I have been clear, as leader of Suffolk County Council (SCC), that the project must be fully collaborative and follow the processes set out by the Department for Transport (DfT) if it is to enjoy any realistic chance of success.

This week, SCC met our commitment to SPSL to undertake phase 1 of the DfT process, by publishing the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC). This concluded that there was a good economic business case to continue the project to phase 2. However, alongside the SOBC, SCC outlined five issues which would need to be considered if SCC were to recommend whether the project proceeds. These issues are:

  1. The way Government allocates funding for road projects has evolved since 2016. There is now a need to provide not only a compelling business case for the road itself, but also to show how the road will enable or support additional housing growth. This need for additional housing falls under the remit of district and borough councils. SCC, as the transport authority for Suffolk, will need clarity on the willingness and ability of the district and borough councils to deliver such growth, beyond that already committed to in their respective local plans.
  2. The need for widespread political support, both at a national and local level, to proceed to the next stage, factoring in the levels of public support and any local changes to the political landscape as a result of the May 2019 and December 2019 elections.
  3. A petition received from the STOP! campaign, which is against the project, is scheduled to be responded to by a meeting of Suffolk County Council on 13 February 2020.
  4. Serious consideration of the climate emergency declared in 2019.
  5. Acceptance that the scheme has no realistic chance of succeeding in gaining government funding as a “road only scheme”.

So far, we have received responses from Ipswich Borough Council, East Suffolk Council, Mid Suffolk District Council and Babergh District Council. We have also received a response from Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich. Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and Dr Therese Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, have also made their views on the Ipswich Northern Route clear prior to publication of the SOBC this week.

This is a complex issue for everyone in Suffolk. The SOBC suggests there is a strong business case to proceed. However, pursuing a project of this scale and financial size clearly needs widespread political support as, without this, Government is unlikely to even support the next phase when £3m is needed to complete the Full Business Case.

Furthermore, without agreement of the district and borough councils to build the additional houses necessary to secure government funding (above those already agreed within their local plans), I do not believe this project can proceed with any degree of success.

Therefore, after careful consideration of the above and the wider political views, along with the very real concerns of families and businesses located close to any of the proposed routes, and all the responses received , it has become increasingly clear that, as Leader of Suffolk County Council, I am now in a position to recommend to my Cabinet that the Ipswich Northern Route should not proceed to the next phase of development.

To bring the uncertainly surrounding this issue to an end for all concerned, I will be bringing a paper to a meeting of Cabinet on 25 February where the final decision will be made, which we must do as the highways’ authority for Suffolk. To avoid pre-empting my own Cabinet’s decision, I do not intend to offer further commentary beyond this statement.

Councillor David Ellesmere, Leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said:

“The Strategic Outline Business Case shows that not only is a Northern Bypass good value for money, it would be much cheaper to construct and require many fewer houses to be built than some of the figures bandied around by its detractors.

“I am pleased that the business case identifies the inner route – Ipswich Borough Council’s preferred option – as the one with the highest cost-benefit and the highest level of public support. The past few weeks have shown the continuing damage to Ipswich’s economy whenever the Orwell Bridge closes.

“We’ve had enough of delays on our roads and delays by Suffolk County Council. They should commit immediately to submitting a full business case for the bypass to the Government.”

Councillor Suzie Morley, Leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said:

“It seems quite clear that the Ipswich Northern Route project is unlikely to progress beyond this point.

“The additional housing needed to secure the necessary Government funding would have to come on top of the numbers already included in our carefully considered and consulted upon Local Plan. This could be almost double the number of homes currently planned and therefore doesn’t seem achievable or sustainable.

“I do believe it was right to develop the proposals for public consultation. However, as representatives of Mid Suffolk, we must balance the importance of improving travel times in Suffolk with the needs and wishes of our residents, and the natural environment which we hold dearly. It is quite clear that public opinion in Mid Suffolk is against the INR. On balance, I cannot see a future for the Ipswich Northern Route project, so we will not be supporting it beyond this point. This is a carefully considered position, but one which we believe is in the best interest of Mid Suffolk residents to whom we are ultimately accountable.”

Statement from the Leader of East Suffolk Council, Cllr Steve Gallant

Having studied the findings from the strategic outline business case and the public consultation, I can confirm that East Suffolk Council does not support the proposals for the new Ipswich Northern Route.

I have been clear throughout this process that impacts on communities in our district would have to be taken into consideration and I do not believe our residents’ interests would be best served by continuing with the project.

The reality is that this new road will only happen if additional homes are built to justify it and, at the moment, a figure as high as 15,000 new properties would be required to make it financially viable. According to standard Planning estimates, this could lead to a new settlement with a population greater than Felixstowe and three times the size of Woodbridge, with a further 20,000 additional cars on the road.

It is clear that new homes are needed in the district. However, the required growth has already been carefully considered and is laid out in our Local Plans. East Suffolk has a duty to represent the interests of our local residents and the significant extra housing that this project demands would place a genuine strain on existing communities and their quality of life.

The primary purpose of a new road would be to cut down congestion elsewhere, however the potential volume of new and additional traffic is worrying. In addition, the cost estimates are troubling and even without any legal challenge we would not see a road built before 2027.

The focus of East Suffolk in respect of transport infrastructure improvements needs to focus on potential projects which have the greatest positive impact on our district. These include improvements to the Orwell Bridge, The Copdock and Seven Hills junctions, and enhancements to the A12 from Felixstowe to Lowestoft, including campaigning for the re-trunking of this strategic road.

East Suffolk Council entirely supports infrastructure projects which provide clear, unarguable benefits to our local communities and businesses. We fully support the decision by Suffolk Public Sector Leaders to complete this study and public consultation. However, it is clear from the outcome that there will be significant impact on residents in the south of our district and I remain unconvinced that the benefits will outweigh a range of negative effects.

Councillor John Ward, Babergh District Council’s leader, said:

“I welcome the publication of this detailed and thorough report, which demonstrates that there is a strong business case for an Ipswich Northern Route. Should the road be built, it is clear that it would form an important component of Ipswich’s growth and prosperity this century, benefiting our county town and the whole of Suffolk.

“This is not the only consideration however, far from it. I fully recognise that there is considerable opposition to the road outside of Ipswich. These concerns need to be respected and addressed. There would also be environmental implications and significant challenges in delivering the additional housing this decade that would be required in order to secure Government backing for the scheme.

“All things considered, I accept that the Ipswich Northern Route project should not go ahead, but feel very strongly that there must be renewed focus on improvements to key existing roads and junctions, including the Copdock interchange and Orwell Bridge. I’d like to see these areas addressed as a matter of urgency so that important progress can be made.”