Upper Orwell Crossings Vanity Bridge

This post will explain the reasons why the proposed Upper Orwell Crossings is a £100 million vanity bridge by breaking it down into the following:

  1. The Proposal
  2. Background
    – Proposal status
    – Background
  3. RIBA Design competition
    – Criticism
  4. Landmark Bridge
    – Design
    – Route
    – Height limit
    – Impact on traffic
    – Pollution
  5. Enterprise Island
  6. Wider impact
  7. Ben’s bridge
  8. Conclusion
  9. Pros and cons

The proposal

The Upper Orwell Crossings are a serious of bridges that aims to open up the island site for development and to reduce traffic in the town centre. A competition was launched to find a design which would then work with an already selected engineering firm to finalise a design.

Crossing 1 (bottom of diagram) is a major road crossing and would connect Wherstead Road and Landseer Road. This bridge would be for vehicle and pedestrians and although height and exact route have not been confirmed, this crossing will not be movable (ie swing bridge).

Crossing 2 (top of diagram) is a local road across the New Cut and would be the only vehicle access onto the island, thus opening up the potential for development. The crossing will most likely connect Felaw Street and New Cut East.

Crossing 3 (middle of diagram) is small pedestrian only bridge over the Prince Phillip Lock. It is likely to be a movable bridge to enable vessels to pass through.

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Likley location of crossings

Background

Previously known as the Wet Dock Crossing, the idea had been proposed back in 2009 by Ipswich Borough Council for a swing bridge by the lock-gates and then across the New Cut to Hawes Street.The stated objective is to “reduce congestion on the Star Lane/College Street gyratory and support pedestrian and cyclists”. The scheme was included in the draft Local Development Framework (September 2009) at an estimated cost of £28 million and a completion date of 2018. Ipswich Borough Council highlighted significant uncertainties about the deliverability of this road and indicates that the Wet Dock Crossing and the Northern Bypass could be mutually exclusive transport schemes. However, this scheme was not supported by Suffolk County Council (who are the transport authority) and they did not include it in their 2006-2011 Suffolk Local Transport Plan or their plans for the subsequent Local Transport Plan. The Ipswich Waterfront study completed in 2006 for the county council also recommended that traffic demand management on the Star Lane/College Street should be tackled urgently without waiting for a new crossing.

More recently, assessments were carried out to identify the best way to improve east to west connections across the Orwell River. The Suffolk.gov proposal is as follows.

Proposal status

In March 2016, we received a provisional funding agreement of approximately £77m from the Department for Transport for the Upper Orwell Crossings project. This funding would cover the majority of the construction works required to deliver the crossings. Additional contributions will be required to fund the project.

We have identified the broad location for the crossings considering the operation of the Port, possible environmental impacts and the new tidal barrier. However we would like to hear your thoughts before deciding on the exact alignment, design and appearance of the crossings.

The first consultation ended on 12 August 2016. There will be a further consultation in 2017 prior to the submission of a planning application to the Secretary of State for Transport for the crossings.

Subject to the planning application approval, construction could start in 2019 and would take two to three years.

Background

In 2015, Suffolk County Council appointed consultants, Kier and WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, to identify and assess a number of ways of improving east to west connections across the River Orwell.

Following a thorough assessment process of 18 different ways, the Upper Orwell Crossings was identified as the best solution to progress through planning and detailed design as it would provide the most benefits.

Importantly, the Upper Orwell Crossings would achieve a number of objectives.

Project objectives
  1. Enable the redevelopment of the Wet Dock Island
  2. Ensure the continued success of the Waterfront, Marina and Port
  3. Provide a catalyst to the regeneration of the southern section of town
  4. Relieve congestion in Ipswich and on the A14 (over Orwell Bridge and the nearby junctions)
  5. Improve connectivity and promote the increased use of sustainable transport for journeys between southeast and southwest areas

RIBA Design competition

Suffolk County Council promoted a £77m scheme to build two new crossings over the River Orwell (A and B), and to refurbish the existing Prince Philip Lock Swing bridge (C). Working with the RIBA Competitions office, they launched a design competition to select an architectural team, to work alongside the engineer already appointed, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff.

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Suffolk.gov proposal

Suffolk’s press release invites interested parties to submit a prequalification questionnaire by 1st September. Suffolk then intend to shortlist at least 5 teams to take part in the contest itself. These teams will submit entries by 2nd December, with a winner expected to be announced in week commencing 12th December. Construction would not start until at least 2019.

Criticism 

The £77 million competition has been described as one of the worst architectural competitions in the UK and has been highly criticised by a number of engineers and designers. The winning team will work with the structural and civil engineer WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff (WSP PB), which is already working on the scheme for the council, to develop the project up to RIBA Stage 3. According to briefing documents, participating architects must consult an engineer or bridge designer when drawing up a scheme but any appointment will cease at the end of the competition stage, which has no fee.

Cezary Bednarski, of Studio Bednarski has won 10 previous bridge contests said it was:

totally illogical to solicit designs at competition stage without advice from the project’s actual engineer… It is easily the most badly set up UK bridge design competition… At the top of the list would be that rather than promoting and facilitating collaborative effort – the only way in which outstanding bridges can be designed – it sets architects against engineers.

Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects commented:

The role of an architect in bridge design is usually quite limited, unless that architect has a genuine or intuitive feel for structures and the respect of the engineering firm they are working with.
The architect may help with the overall form of a bridge, but is more likely to have a limited role designing the balustrades, lighting and signage and maybe the finish/colour of the bridge surfaces in addition to urban or landscape integration.

Chris Medland of One-World Design Architects agreed, adding:

A pure design response to creating a crossing fundamentally requires an architect to collaborate with a structural engineer at the outset.
Not to do so, unless the architect in question has expert structural knowledge, risks the early design being no more than desire lines or contrived shape-making, which an engineer would somehow post-rationalise.

Bednarski also criticised the prequalification criteria – which requires annual turnover of at least £1 million and £10 million worth of professional insurance cover – for ‘excluding talent and creativity’.

The requirement for teams to have completed three similar bridge projects in the last three to five years was also slated alongside a £10,000 honorarium to cover the finalists’ costs.

Commenting on the other contest restrictions, Ritchie said:

They imply that if a practice has designed and executed many bridges, but unfortunatley none in the past three years, then the relevance of the practice’s bridge experience and knowledge counts for nothing.
And, the presumption must be from the client or competition organisers that the practice has jettisoned all its knowledge prior to three years ago – which is simply daft. The same can be said of turnover requirements. Knowledge and experience is not lost, unless the practice is careless, with fluctuating turnover.

Ritchie suggested WSP PB run the contest instead and select six architects based on design skills to work alongside their engineers to draw up conceptual proposals.

The chair of RIBA Competitions, Martin Knight defended the contest as opportunity opened to architects. He said:

Criticism of this competition for excluding engineers misses the point that, had an architectural contest not been selected by the client, the design of three bridges of architectural significance in the regeneration of this part of the city of Ipswich would have been awarded through the client’s consultancy framework, which had already selected a consultant to progress the engineering design.

From the way this competition has been organised should raise alarm bells about the integrity and management of this design. The competition was focused on the design and form of the bridge, the route and height will be finalised at a later period. Why? The main river crossing being called the ‘Landmark Bridge’ and it seems that the council wants a landmark for the Waterfront which will unlock the island for development and kick start the regeneration of the area. Traffic impact, restriction of vessels, the route and subsequent junctions are all an after thought. This is not a bridge to improve the town’s infrastructure, it is a very expensive vanity project to allow for development that is not even guaranteed.

Read this blog post that goes into much more detail about the problems with the design competition. 

The ‘Landmark’ Bridge

The ‘Landmark’ is the main river crossing being proposed, the bridge will carry a single carriageway of vehicle traffic as well as support pedestrian and cycle traffic.

Design

Foster+Partners had their design chosen by the panel of experts who were

“impressed by the quality of Foster + Partners’ overall approach and thinking, including the initial design concepts presented for the project’s three constituent bridge crossings.  The approaches were considered to have the potential to provide a very appropriate response to the waterfront context and townscape, as well as acting as a catalyst for regeneration of the wider harbour area.” Foster+Partners

These renders make the bridge look exceptional, only trouble, the bridge, if built, will most certainly be an altered design. Not to mention that the route and height now have to be finalised.

The main landmark bridge will consist of a main single carriageway road deck supported by tree-like pillars that will be illuminated. A lower pedestrian bridge will be supported by ‘branching’ supports off the main pillars. The pedestrian deck will connect both banks while the road deck will continue to the connecting roads.

 Route

The route, though not confirmed, will join up to the Wherstead Road/Hawes Street roundabout on the West bank and will most likely create a junction on Hollywells Road. If this is the case, there will be three junctions metres within one another (Cliff Lane and Toller Road) Traffic lights will almost certainly be installed on both junctions.

Height limit

This is one of the major criticisms of the bridge, the bridge design is split into two decks and early indications suggest the height is:

  • Road deck maximum of 25 metres
  • Pedestrian Deck height of 15 – 20 metres (assuming a 5 metre height difference between the decks)
  • Air draft of the highest span 15 – 20 metres (the air draft of the bridge will be the highest span and depend on the height of the pedestrian deck)

If this is the case tall ships, Thames sailing barges and some sailing yachts will be restricted. For the example the Race of the Classics will no longer use Ipswich as their base before the race across the North Sea. Tall Ships such as the Stavros S Niarchos, a frequent visitor to Ipswich, will also be restricted. These may be rare as they only just make it under the Orwell Bridge that has an air draft of 43 metres. However, some medium and large yachts will be affected by the bridge resulting in them having to use an alternative marina.

If the bridge is built to this height, it will have a catastrophic effect on the Waterfront and Ipswich as a whole. One of the major attractions of the the Waterfront is visiting ships as well as the sailing yachts in the marina.

Impact on traffic

Unlocking the ‘Enterprise Island’ for development was the primary consideration for Suffolk County Council, traffic was a second on the list. So will it have an impact on traffic? Suffolk County Council seem to think so. They were so confident in fact, they produced a questionable traffic study that calculated the impact the bridge would have when the Orwell Bridge is closed. This was before the accurate route had been proposed.

2017-05-28 (4)
Suffolk County Council traffic study watch animation

There was most certainly more traffic than what is ‘calculated’ for the Orwell Bridge closure, I for can concur. It takes at least One and a half hours to travel across town on a bus when the bridge was closed. Even on a good day it takes 25 minutes to travel from Gainsborough to the town centre due to traffic from the bottom of Cliff Lane all the way to the University. The Culprit, two highly congested roads, Duke Street and Fore Hamlet (Felixstowe Road) converge at a set of traffic lights which becomes 1 lane for 150 metres before it opens up into the gyratory. This bottle neck is the cause for much of the congestion in East Ipswich.

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A typical morning rush hour – Google Maps

On the opposite bank, Wherstead road is almost always gridlocked heading into town, the problem here is that most eastbound traffic converges at the Novetel roundabout and subsequent gyratory. The bridge WILL NOT have a major impact on traffic. Why? Most westbound traffic is heading into the town centre or to the north of town, a bridge will just mean drivers will use the congested Wherstead Road instead of Duke Street. Longer journeys to West Ipswich will use the A14 at the Nacton junction due to traffic and junctions/traffic lights on Felixstowe/Nacton/Landseer Road. The bridge will serve very few motorists in the east. The bridge will serve a few more heading eastbound due to the proximity of the train station, however, the main problem is the gyratory. Even with the new bridge, the majority of drivers will still be impacted by the poor infrastructure of the one way system, junctions and subsequent traffic. Very few routes will be quicker on the proposed crossings, most journeys will still be quicker on the A14, the route that the Council wants to reduce traffic from.

Suffolk County Council say the new crossings will decrease the traffic on the Orwell Bridge by 10%, this is extremely unlikely and this development should not be billed as an Orwell Bridge replacement. The route from the Nacton Road junction (J57) to the Wherstead Road junction (J56) would, with the bridge, would be a length of 3.9 miles. Junction to junction on the Orwell Bridge is 3 miles, with a speed limit of 60 -70mph. This bridge will, however, keep the majority of traffic away from the town centre when the Orwell Bridge is closed. That is one very expensive bridge just to be useful as a diversion route.

Even if some small routes (mostly those heading to the train station) are made quicker, the price does not justify this negligent impact. Ipswich needs major Infrastructure investment, not a vanity bridge that will have a disastrous impact on the Waterfront. Ipswich needs:

  • Remodelling of the one way system
  • Remodelling of major junctions on the A14 such as Copdock. The main junction for the A12, the road to London end at a roundabout with traffic lights.
  • A northern bypass.
Pollution

Pollution, air and noise, will be dramatically increased by the main landmark bridge due to the wind direction over the body of cold water. The noise pollution will also be very noticeable from the Waterfront due to the height of a traffic bridge, thus having a negative impact. Furthermore, having the pedestrian deck suspended just a few metres below the main road deck will result in pedestrians breathing in more pollution than what would have had, had they walked around the Waterfront.

Enterprise Island

Enterprise Island is the name given to the island site since the early 2000’s, the island site has been earmarked for 70% residential usage including a small park on the west of the site. More recently that plan has been scrapped, with an emphasis on the university expansion, a technology park and housing.

The amount of residential will depend on planning and actual interest in the partners of the project (Cambrdige Uni and BT). The idea behind this is that high-waged bio-tech or I.T jobs will be on the island along with on site housing for the employees so in the mind of the council, very few car journeys, hence there will be only one vehicle access to the island. Of course in practice, this will not work. The following SCC guide suggests 380 homes on the Island site. 

This therefore begs the question, why is the main landmark road bridge needed? The island can be regenerated without it and the landmark bridge is the main problem with the Upper Orwell Crossings proposal.

Wider impact

If everything mentioned thus far is reality, ie height, route, design etc, the bridge will have a dire impact not only on the Waterfront, but for Ipswich and the tourism industry. Firstly, tall ships will not be able to visit Ipswich, nor will maritime festivals or navy ships. Secondly, some of the larger yachts moored in the marina will be restricted and unable to remain in Ipswich.

Although this is very speculative, it could happen if the bridge height is low and these speculations are a result of a poorly planned project that has kept the public in the dark. When the route has not been finalised before design proposals, it shows how the project is being handled.

Ben’s bridge

These proposals, as badly planned as it seems, is being used as a marketing campaign and main local issue for Ben Gummer’s reelection campaign for MP. Why? £75 million provisional funding from Government – tells the electorate that he has won £100 million worth of investment sounds amazing. In reality its a con – a marketing ploy – even with his own t shirts advertising the bridge.

2017-06-04

Conclusion

In conclusion this project is a disaster, firstly a road bridge designed with traffic impact as a secondary priority says it all. Secondly, a focus on creating an enterprise island is a desperate bid to allow for the expansion of a poorly planned university. From the original plans to redevelop the island, a large road bridge was not included, so it begs the question, why is it needed if the island could be redeveloped with an improved lock crossing and bridge across to Stoke Quay? It couldn’t possibly be because its a good selling point for this vanity project.

The island site can and should be regenerated, very few people oppose that, however, this can be achieved at a fraction of the money. The major problem is that the ‘landmark’ bridge is being marketed as an Orwell Bridge replacement and that it will ease congestion, where as in reality it is being used essentially as a marketing ploy for the enterprise island. It is a vanity project that Ben Gummer has been pushing for years.

Pros

  • It opens up the island for development.
  • Allows for easier pedestrian access between both banks.
  • Relieve traffic when the Orwell Bridge is closed.
  • Possibly allow expansion of university onto the island.

Cons

  • No major improvement to traffic.
  • Limit/restrict the height of boats coming into Ipswich.
  • Kill of the main attraction of the Waterfront – ships.
  • Essentially a regeneration of the regeneration. Redevelop the island site to kick start the Regatta Quay regeneration.
  • The way the project has been handled should raise alarm bells.
  • Inaccurate traffic study.
  • Traffic impact was a secondary priority.
  • The bridge WILL NOT reduce traffic on the Orwell Bridge by 10%.
  • Increased pollution across the Waterfront.
  • A possible replacement for the remodelling of the Star Lane gyratory.
  • Won’t support the houisng developments in the North and East.
  • This project, at £100 million (will most certainly rise), pushes back the case for a northern bypass which is needed more than anything.

sources

Suffolk.gov
Suffolk.gov enterprise island
Foster+Partners
ConstructionEnquirer
IpswichStar
TheArchitectsJournal
BBC
IpswichSociety
EnterpriseIslandPlan
DesigningBuildings
e-architect
Waterfrontlife
ArchitecturalReview
BDOnline

Opinion pieces

BenGummer HappyPontistBlog

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