Ipswich bridges scheme: £8m ‘wasted’ on Upper Orwell Crossings plan

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The plan of the three crossingsImage copyright
Suffolk County Council

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Three crossings were planned as part of the project

Half of £8m spent on a scrapped river crossing project was paid out to one consultancy firm, a report states.

Suffolk County Council axed plans for the Upper Orwell Crossings earlier this year, saying it was unaffordable

A report showed £4m was handed over to design and engineering consultants WSP, which campaigners said was a “waste of money” on a “vanity project”.

WSP, which wrote the outline business case for the crossing, said: “It is not uncommon for cost estimates to evolve.”

The Upper Orwell Crossings proposal included:

  • A main road bridge crossing the River Orwell from Wherstead Road to the Cliff Quay area
  • A smaller road bridge across the New Cut, from Felaw Maltings to the island site.
  • A new pedestrian and cycle bridge across the lock at the entrance to the wet dock

Suffolk County Council said it was “disappointed” the plans fell through but it was looking into building two smaller bridges.

The Conservative-run council said it was committed to underwriting up to £10.8m towards those bridges.

Image copyright
Suffolk County Council

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The original cost was estimated to be just under £97m

The Upper Orwell Crossings project started in 2015 and was initially predicted to cost about £97m, but an independent review said it would be closer to £139m.

Suffolk County Council initially put the plans on hold while it tried to raise the extra funding, but the costs spiralled.

According to the breakdown of costs, £2m of the £8m was spent on contractors carrying out the investigation into ground works.

‘Astonished’

The rest was for legal services, architects, IT, communications consultants and dealing with private landowners.

A spokeswoman for WSP said the work had “spanned a period of three years” and listed the specifications, including “highway and structural engineering” and “consultation support”.

“Our cost estimates were confirmed as correct by an independent third party,” she said.

Matthew Thomas, leader of the Rivers Action Group which opposed the project, said there “didn’t seem to be any governance or control”.

“They should’ve known it wasn’t going to happen, there wasn’t enough money,” he said.

“£8m to waste on a vanity project is crazy.”

Image copyright
Environment Agency

Image caption

The aim of the crossings was to alleviate traffic problems in Ipswich’s Star Lane/College Road area, and when the Orwell Bridge closes for accidents or high winds

Liz Harsant, a Conservative Ipswich borough councillor, said she was “horrified” £4m went to one consultant, while Green county councillor Robert Lindsay said he was “astonished”.

It is not the first time the county council has paid out large sums to WSP on a failed project.

The firm worked on the Sudbury bypass business case which was scrapped after costs rose.

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