Whilst walking into the town centre yesterday for an appointment and back to my house again it felt as if East Ipswich had been bombed. There are holes in the road everywhere with what looks like a crater in Fore Street.
As the blogosphere and dead tree press have reported there are two things going on: 1) a gas mains replacement in Fore Street and 2) a series of transport works as part of the £21 Million ‘Travel Ipswich‘ programme.
On the first set of roadworks, this project has overrun. A meeting with business owners, MP Ben Gummer and Suffolk County Council was held this week but there was one noticeable absence: Ipswich Borough Council. It seems from reports in the
Morning Ipswich Star the County’s transport chief Cllr Guy McGregor spent the meeting blaming Ipswich Borough Council for National Grid not completing their work sooner. I wonder if he mentioned that his County Council is actually the highways authority and that the Borough Council just facilitates the closure of the road as the highways agency. And did he also mention that Suffolk County Council intend to outsource the entire highways department to a private company in April next year?
|Labour Council transport chief Cllr Phil Smart|
However, it is true to say Ipswich Borough Council are responsible for putting pressure on National Grid to get their work finished on time and to fill their crater in as soon as possible. The way this is done is through something called “project management”. In short it means transport officers should be on the case of National Grid managers day in, day out, asking for updates on when they will be finished and explaining the legal consequences if they don’t finish by an agreed deadline. Political leadership is also very important. The Labour Borough transport portfolio holder, Cllr Phil Smart, has regular meetings with senior transport officers at Grafton House. At these meetings he should be pushing his officers hard for a swift conclusion of the gas mains work: is he doing this or is he spending these meeting talking about his pet subject: trains. Think trainspotter and you pretty much sum up Cllr Smart!
The only time transport projects got done in a timely manner is when Tory Tanya Maclure (yes, I declare an interest!) was the transport chief at the Borough. Believe me, officers knew to keep to schedule when Tanya was overseeing their work! Cllr Smart is one of those who “steers”, not “leads” it would seem.
With number (2) above, I am all for improving and developing our infrastructure, which ‘Travel Ipswich’ will do, but the disruption is going to be massive and the heavy duty works haven’t even started yet. The Civic Drive/Princes Street roundabout is going to be shortly torn up with the pedestrian underpasses filled in: this will take months to complete and will undoubtedly cause traffic chaos. But this is part of ‘Travel Ipswich”s aims: the government via Suffolk County Council want to make it hell for car drivers to the extent they will be forced to wait in the rain for a bus which is half an hour late. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.
The ‘Travel Ipswich’ programme has multiple engineering teams, some from the County and some from the Borough. Ipswich Borough Council are in charge of widening and re-laying the pavements along Grimwade Street and Fore Street, along with other schemes. I was walking home yesterday evening and crossed Grimwade Street at the bottom-end close to the Waterfront but I soon met a dead-end on the eastern side of the junction – there was no pavement. It was rectified by turning back to the traffic island and crossing over to the Waterfront side of Fore Street heading up to the Duke Street junction – however, several pedestrians took their lives into their hands and walked along the road instead!
It is by the Council not putting up adequate signs and barriers which compounds the inconvenience experienced by road users and pedestrians alike during major transport works. Better management of ‘Travel Ipswich’ starting from the political leaders at the Borough Council will ease the transition to a better transport system. Alternatively, the patience of voters will snap. The disruption in Ipswich over the coming months WILL have an affect in the County Council elections next year and could also be a deciding factor for Ben Gummer at the next General Election. Now, that should concentrate minds!