I’ve lived in Ipswich for 12 years now and there are many things I enjoy about the town: it’s low crime rate, it’s real ale pubs, the community feel which is unusual in the South, and the surrounding beautiful countryside.
But Ipswich (or more to the point indigenous Ipswich people) really finds it difficult to embrace progress and change.
A recent case in point is the new transport scheme being rolled out across the town. All you hear is moan, moan, moan. The Government has whacked £21 Million into a provincial and quite remote town, which most Whitehall mandarins have never heard of never mind be able to place on a map, and local people almost tell the Government to stuff it.
The town is very old, arguably the oldest recorded town in England, and has a road layout to match. The dock was the central part of the town up until the middle of the last century because trade was focused around water: now rail and road are our main means of trade communications.
Ipswich was one of the last places with a port in the country not to have it regenerated. If you look at Liverpool, Bristol, and of course, East London, the people there embraced change decades ago. Ipswich only got round to privatizing the port in the late 1990s!
But the town is being gradually brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century and sorting out the archaic road network is a key aspect of that Conservative County Hall-led change. Ipswich must adapt to survive. Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century Project, now known as Travel Ipswich, is the scheme for the improvements we are seeing at the Civic Drive junction, the renewal of two bus stations and excellent proposals to get rid of what has to be the most bizarre roundabout system in the country on Norwich Road. There have been teething problems – there always are in projects of this size – but once all the works are complete, the benefits to residents, visitors and businesses alike will be enormous.
The £21 Million will also pay for traffic lights at the top of Bishop’s Hill, which sees traffic backed all the way up Nacton Road and beyond. There is quite clearly a problem here – caused by the vast increase in cars on the roads in Ipswich during the last ten years and the opening of the new University on the Waterfront – and it needs to be fixed. There is no point sticking your head in the ground hoping the problem will go away.
I was speaking with a senior Tory activist on Saturday and he made the point that roundabouts and other uncontrolled junctions only work when there are few cars otherwise you can never get out of the junction. He is entirely right, hence the technology called traffic lights was invented. And in the 21st century, traffic lights have got even better at their job with another technology called UTMC (Urban Traffic Management Control). UTMC synchronises any number of traffic lights so if there are, say, three sets of traffic lights over a half a mile stretch, they will all turn green at the same time, thereby reducing the stop and start action of traffic which creates jams. Again, the £21 Million from central Government is paying for UTMC to be introduced into Ipswich: most provincial towns do not have such advanced traffic management systems in place. We should be rejoicing, not moaning. The reason for the teething problems on Civic Drive is because UTMC hasn’t been switched on yet but it will be and queuing in this area will vastly reduce.
New transport chief Cllr Graham Newman and his team at Suffolk County Council are proposing traffic lights at the top of Bishop’s Hill. The engineers at County Hall didn’t just wake up one morning and said, hey, let’s put some new traffic lights in East Ipswich for the fun of it. They have seen the problem of queuing traffic and using computer models which simulate traffic patterns, motorist behaviours and the introduction of UTMC they have seen results that will reduce the queue lengths.
So there is a problem: long queues into town from Felixstowe Road down the hill to the Waterfront. What shall we do about it? Moan about it and then moan about it some more when it gets worse (which it will as young people buy cars and older drivers live longer)? Or shall we implement a proposed and evidence-based solution to fix it? Errr, let me think…
The moaning and reluctance to engage change is not just an irritant: it is the reason why Ipswich takes so long to develop and progress. But it doesn’t have to be this way: think outwards and embrace solutions not problems and, you know what, the people of Ipswich are the ones who will reap the rewards. Isn’t that what we want?