Lake Lothing crossing plan in doubt

Regeneration plans for a new crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft are hanging in the balance. Officials at Suffolk County Council have questioned whether the plan, put forward by regeneration firm 1stEast, is “realistic” and said the authority “could not commit to implementing this part of the master plan”.

Regeneration plans for a new crossing over Lake Lothing in Lowestoft were hanging in the balance last night.

Officials at Suffolk County Council have questioned whether the plan, put forward by regeneration firm 1stEast, is “realistic” and said the authority “could not commit to implementing this part of the master plan”.

But last night, Waveney MP Bob Blizzard attacked the Suffolk County Council for failing to throw its weight behind the Lake Lothing plan - describing its decision as “worse than disappointing”.

Meanwhile, as plans for one key east coast transport scheme was put in jeopardy, a second - dualling the A47 Acle Straight - was effectively shelved for a generation as the government chose to back cheaper, smaller-scale safety improvements.

A report on the Lake Lothing crossing to be presented to Suffolk's cabinet on July 13 argues that uncertainty over funding the bridge is the main obstacle in supporting it.

“The fact that the crossing is not currently programmed in any regional or county funding priorities means that it is likely to require a large element of developer funding,” it says. “The extent to which development can underwrite such a proposal is also not yet clear. Until the full costs are clear, it is uncertain how realistic these proposals are.

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“In these circumstances, the county council could not commit to implementing this part of the master plan,” it adds.

Philip Watkins, chief executive of regeneration firm 1stEast, has already suggested that developers could be asked to make financial contributions to help pay for the bridge instead of building affordable houses.

Mr Blizzard was, however, scathing about the attitude of the authority's attitude.

“We cannot get anywhere at all with it unless we have the support of the local highway authority,” he said. “Suffolk County Council has given its support to 1stEast but for the council then not to accept the cornerstone of the master plan - it's worse than disappointing. It doesn't make any sense at all.

“What we have got now is most of the northern spine road and the South Lowestoft Relief Road. Anyone who knows Lowestoft realises that what we need to do is join those two roads up. That's the ultimate prize.

“This negative response gets us nowhere at all. It undermines everything we are trying to do locally,” he added. “We need to get it in some plans and go to the private sector positively rather than pour cold water on it.”

But Guy McGregor, portfolio holder for roads and transport at the county council, said the authority would not commit itself to something it could not deliver.

“Having been to Holland and consulted with Dutch architects, a figure of £10m for a bridge at Lake Lothing does not seem out of order,” he said.

“But figures in the past have been quoted of £30m and that's a large gap.

“We also have to consider whether it is going to cross the railway line or are we going to move the station. If it does not cross the railway line, it is going to be cheaper.”

Mr McGregor added that the council did support the idea of a bridge, but was concerned about funding it.

“No one has done more than the county council to preserve the route of a third crossing and you can see that just by looking at a map of the town,” he said.

“It is all very well for Bob Blizzard to call for more support, but he does not have to find the resources.”

In Norfolk, MPs and families of those killed or injured on the A47 between Acle and Yarmouth expressed their disappointment with the government's decision not to support dualling.

Instead, a £600,000 investment will pay for resurfacing, new cats-eyes and signs as well as the introduction of speed cameras.

Roads minister Stephen Ladyman said he had taken his decision because of the “adverse environmental impacts” of dualling and because “the region does not consider the scheme to be a regional priority”.

But Andrea Fransham, a senior midwife at the James Paget Hospital whose partner Glenn drowned in a freezing dyke after a collision on the road last January, said the package did not go far enough.

“It is quite naïve to think this will make the difference,” she said.

“The police are crying out for something to be done. The criminally sad thing is that it will take a mass-drowning before it hits the national news and the government is embarrassed about what they've failed to do for the area.”

Keith Simpson, MP for Mid-Norfolk, called the decision “a profound disappointment”.

“They do recognise there are safety concerns but this is a sticking plaster solution which doesn't answer the fundamental issues,” he said.

“We will redouble our efforts to get the work done. We're not going to accept this quietly, we're going to make a bloody nuisance of ourselves.”

And Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said that while the decision was expected, it was still frustrating.

“We knew that it would not be dualled straight away because we could not get the support of the regional assembly,” he said. “Once the outer harbour has opened and we see all the traffic build up I hope we can come back to this again.”

Adrian Gunson, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for transportation, said: “I don't know how much more we need to do to justify dualling.

“One is almost forced to come to the view that the government doesn't want to listen,” he added. “I hope these improvements will save lives but it's pretty small-scale stuff.”