43.1 The Chair explained that this item had been placed on the agenda in response to requests made at the previous South East Area Committee meeting. Councillor Barber explained that since the previous meeting Suffolk County Council had launched a review of the Upper Orwell Crossing costs. Councillor Barber read the latest Press Release from Suffolk County Council, published on 31 July 2018, as follows:
The leader of Suffolk County Council has launched an independent review of the costs of building the Upper Orwell Crossings in Ipswich.
The major bridge project, which is still in its planning stages, was originally calculated to cost £97 million, with around three quarters of the funding coming from the Government and remaining money coming from Suffolk taxpayers.
But a recent internal review of costs has forecast that the total amount needed to complete the project could increase significantly. Unless additional funding from Government can be secured, this additional money would most likely have to be found locally, either from Suffolk businesses or taxpayers.
The project will therefore be paused temporarily while the independent review is carried out by engineering specialists from Jacobs. The outcome of the review is expected in September 2018.
Councillor Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council’s leader, said:
“Since becoming leader, I have asked my senior team to review the major infrastructure projects Suffolk County Council is working on. The Upper Orwell Crossings is one of the biggest and most complex.
“It’s clear to me that whilst the significant project is being managed well, there is currently some uncertainty around the costs. If we’re going to proceed and build these bridges, that uncertainty needs to be addressed right now.
“We’re going to pause work temporarily, pending the outcome of this review. Then, based on sound and independent advice and considering everything we know about the project, Suffolk County Council will make a decision on the future of the Upper Orwell Crossings.”
43.2 SCC Councillor Gaylard explained that Jacobs’ report on the Upper Orwell Crossings costs would be released by the end of September.
43.3 A local resident said that he was concerned that the pausing of work on the Upper Orwell Crossings meant that crucial traffic monitoring information would have been missed. SCC Councillor West explained that there would be robust scrutiny of the evidence base by a planning inspector, should the scheme be proceeded with.
43.4 A local resident asked whether there was a price at which Suffolk County Council would decide that the project was no longer viable. SCC Councillor West explained that Suffolk County Council was not prepared to allow costs to continue to increase and that once the review had been completed the Suffolk County Council Cabinet would consider whether the benefits of the scheme continued to outweigh the costs.
43.5 A local resident asked whether an estimate was available for the construction of the often discussed North Ipswich Bypass. SCC Councillor West explained that a business case for the project was being worked on and would probably be released later in the year. SCC Councillor West noted that the schemes were intended to solve different problems, with the Upper Orwell Crossings designed to improve traffic routes within the town and the bypass to allow through traffic to avoid using Ipswich’s roads altogether.
43.6 Councillor Parry asked how Jacobs would be able to estimate the cost of the Upper Orwell Crossings when the designs were not finalised. SCC Councillor West explained that whilst designs were not finalised it remained possible for experts to review the likely cost of the project.
43.7 A resident questioned the logic behind the building of the Upper Orwell Crossings, saying that the justification submitted to Central Government was to reduce pressure on the A14 and to provide a diversionary route when the Orwell Bridge was closed. SCC Councillor West confirmed that by improving traffic routes within Ipswich it was hoped that less people would use the A14 to travel between different parts of the town. Ipswich Borough Council’s Local Plan identified a need to relieve pressure on the Star Lane Gyratory, which the Crossings would do.