Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Roadworks chaos could decide next election

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!


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UPDATE: Ipswich Beacon Town Conference

As reported yesterday, the second Ipswich Beacon Town conference took place at the Corn Exchange on Friday with keynote speaker Sir Stuart Rose, former boss of Marks & Spencer.

Sir Stuart listed a number of ideas on how to improve the welcome to Ipswich and it’s town centre retail offering. First up was making the railway station more inviting and to erect clear signposts to the town centre from the station rather than visitors first being greeted by three lanes of traffic. He said: “The railway station would not be out of place in Siberia! It is a depressing station that you want to get out of – and there is nothing to say ‘Welcome to Ipswich.’ There is not even a sign to the town centre and when you get out you straight away have to dodge the traffic.”

However, he did praise the map-based monoliths implemented by the previous Conservative-led Borough Council which have popped up around and within the town centre.

Tatty: Ipswich Market

The retailing guru also reiterated what right-minded Tories and also a former Labour mayor have being saying for years: move that tatty market! The Cornhill is the last open space in Ipswich town centre (when the Del Boy market is not in town) and should be permanently liberated in the style of Exchange Square in Manchester, which was transformed into a continental-style piazza after the IRA bomb in 1996. Exchange Square also just happens to be outside the largest M&S in Europe…

As has been reported on Ipswich Spy, Michael Foot, aka Cllr David Ellesmere, went all starry-eyed in front of Sir Stuart and leapt up to say that moving the market was a great idea. Let’s see if he follows through now the conference has wound up. We don’t have to get rid of the market – well not the nice bread and olive stalls – but just move it up Lloyds Avenue, down Princes Street and Queen Street (which will be pedestrianised in the next year as part of the ‘Travel Ipswich’ project) or down the Buttermarket. But getting rid of it from the Cornhill and then transforming this space with tiered seatings and cafe style outdoor seating will do wonders for the town centre retail experience – we might actually get a tenant for the now-closed Clinton’s store.

We’re just fine: Cllr Carole Jones

Fellow bloggers and of course the Morning Ipswich Star seem to have conveniently forgotten something that happened at yesterday’s Beacon conference. My spy at the meeting tells me Michael Foot’s Labour party is still alive and well in Ipswich: cue Labour’s Economic Decline Development Borough portfolio holder. Once Sir Stuart had finished his speech explaining what was wrong in Ipswich and how it could be fixed, up popped Labour’s Cllr Carole Jones (and partner of council leader Michael Foot David Ellesmere) to say Ipswich “was fine” and Sir Stuart “just didn’t know it well enough”. My source tells me it was “embarrassing”.

So unlike Ipswich Spy, I won’t be dancing a jig to the bright new dawn just quite yet. Let’s remember Labour have form when it comes to the Council helping to kick start the economy. They moaned profusely about the Giles Circus development implemented by the former Conservative-led Council, which undoubtedly attracted Waitrose to Ipswich town centre. Are they really going to do one better and transform the Cornhill in the same way?
I hope so but I wouldn’t put money on it.