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Babergh District Council reiterates long-term ambition for Sudbury bypass after Suffolk County Council submits funding bid for bus service and junction improvements in town

Improvements to bus services and traffic pinch points are being pursued to alleviate congestion in Sudbury, in lieu of a bypass scheme – but Babergh District Council says a relief road remains a long-term ambition.

Suffolk County Council has submitted an application to the Government’s 2020/21 Pinch Point Fund, seeking money to carry out work to key junctions around the town, as well as enhancing public transport provision – all to help address long-standing traffic issues.

In the funding application, seen by the Free Press via a Freedom of Information request, the council explained the proposals have been developed after an analysis determined the costs of a bypass would outweigh the benefits.

Sudbury, Suffolk, UK, 23 October 2018..The view from the top of St Peter's Church in Sudbury across the town. ..Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography. (4984207)
Sudbury, Suffolk, UK, 23 October 2018..The view from the top of St Peter's Church in Sudbury across the town. ..Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography. (4984207)

“Work on a western bypass was therefore stopped. This option will not be considered further,” the document reads.

It is understood that the Department for Transport (DfT) has indefinitely deferred any decisions on Pinch Point Fund applications due to the coronavirus crisis.

Babergh District Council confirmed it is supporting the county council’s funding bid for bus and junction improvements, which it also outlined in its ‘What next for Sudbury’ exhibition in January.

However, it also reiterated this month that it has not dropped its interest in the idea of a relief road.

Michael Holt, Conservative cabinet member for economic growth at the council, said: “While there is no current proposal for the Sudbury relief road, that doesn’t mean that Babergh District Council has dropped all interest in it.

“We are very well aware of the traffic problems facing Sudbury and are supportive of measures to help alleviate them.

“The inclusion of the relief road in our corporate plan highlights that we remain ready to work with the county council, should this project be considered again in the future.”

James Cartlidge, Conservative MP for South Suffolk, has also endorsed the Pinch Point Funding bid, stating he saw it as part of wider plans to regenerate Sudbury, while adding that he believes it would be unrealistic to revisit the idea of a bypass at this time.

But Babergh’s Green Party group leader Robert Lindsay claimed the proposals are “nowhere near ambitious enough”, arguing that a master plan was needed to make the town safer for cyclists and walkers, to help reduce traffic on the roads.

The county council’s Pinch Point Fund bid sets out proposals to install new bus stops in North Street, East Street and Great Eastern Road, in addition to a ‘bus gate’ at the northern end of North Street, to give priority access to buses.

The application is also seeking to implement improvements at several key junctions, including Great Eastern Road, East Street, Girling Street, Ingram’s Well Road and Newton Road, as well as a redesign of the existing Girling Street car park, providing additional space for school buses and coaches.

Mr Cartlidge said: “I see this as very much part of a joined-up plan to be considered alongside wider ambitions to regenerate the town, not least the plans for Gainsborough’s House and St Peter’s, both of which have been successful in achieving public funding.

“Now we need to obtain funding for the transport improvements needed to support these plans.

“Unfortunately, it would not be realistic to revisit the Sudbury bypass at the moment, because it only recently had a detailed assessment, which concluded that the scheme would not represent value for money sufficient to be likely to receive support from national Government.

“In the current context, it’s hard to see that changing, but I can understand why the district would want to look to the future.

“These are challenging times, but we shouldn’t put plans to improve our town completely on hold.

“I hope that we can still move forward as we eventually move out of lockdown in a managed way, presenting a new opportunity to consider our transport challenges.”

However, Cllr Lindsay, a Green Party councillor at both district and county level, who has long opposed a bypass scheme, said there needed to be a focus on turning Sudbury into a low-emission zone.

He called for a greater emphasis on cycling and walking, suggesting that cycle lanes could be created at the Northern Road Industrial Estate and at Valley Walk, and claimed the funding bid failed to address issues at the Belle Vue roundabout.

“The coronavirus has changed everything,” he told the Free Press. “At the moment, there are now four or five times as many people cycling in Sudbury as there were before lockdown, because the roads are finally clear of cars and people now feel safe to cycle on them.

“Residents report that a haze that used to be seen from the top of Market Hill, looking south to the meadows, is now gone.

“We want those people who are cycling now to stay cycling when the lockdown ends. The only way to do that is to design Sudbury centre so that it is safe for cyclists and walkers.

“The plan to part-pedestrianise Market Hill is to be welcomed, but it ought to be made the centrepiece of a radical master plan, to shift the road priority in town to pedestrians first, then cyclists, then buses, and lastly motor vehicles.”

Cllr Lindsay added he is proposing that Suffolk County Council issue an experimental road traffic order to close the north side of Market Hill and North Street to motor traffic, with access for delivery and market vehicles only, stating it is now an ideal time to trial these plans.

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