ENGINEERS fighting to build a relief road around the port of Ipswich have been buoyed by the support of ICE president professor Adrian Long.
On a recent visit to ICE East Anglia to receive the original plans for the port drawn up by ICE founder Henry Palmer (see box), Long spoke up in defence of the controversial scheme.
Ipswich's port, which sits in the shadow of the A14 Orwell Bridge, stands on the cusp of an exciting new future. But satisfying the environmental lobby is proving to be a frustrating monkey on its back.
A new link road from the A14 direct to the port would remove heavy goods traffic from the town's tight streets. But this East Bank Link Road proposal is being held up as its route must cut through a sensitive countryside park.
A £20M proposal was to be wholly funded by a private developer desperate to plough money into the port. But port owner Associated British Ports (ABP) believes there is a political reluctance to upset the environmental lobby.
'This is despite £9M of this cost being spent directly on environmental mitigation, ' said regional property manager ABP Martin O'Hara.
But Long said: 'It is true that too often environmental arguments are short-sighted.
'Few understand just what environmental concern really means. It is not just about the impact of a scheme on wildlife, but the impact the scheme will have on the whole town.
'Relieving this heavy vehicle pressure on Ipswich's streets would mean a great environmental benefit for the local population, ' he added. 'You have to view these schemes from a much wider perspective, and not be too blinkered.'
Since ABP took over the port's running from the public sector, throughput has seen a steady growth. 'But the port was in a bad shape and waterfront development is needed for the future of the port, ' explained O'Hara.
Tying this in with the rest of Ipswich's centre has seen a pedestrian zone proposed. 'This link is crucial for the success of the retail and leisure sectors, ' he added.
Another major scheme proposed for the port is an EastWest crossing that will hop across the port via its island.
This will offer traffic an alternative route through the town and provide an added passage for port vehicle traffic.
But the plans are fraught with complications. 'For a start, any building project in the port will be costly, because it will be sure to face extensive archaeological investigations into its Anglo Saxon beginnings, said O'Hara.
'And during the summer, any bridge over the harbour lock gates would hardly be open due to sailing and cargo traffic.'
An elevated bridge is a nonstarter because there is no room for the necessary land take. A tunnel is rejected for the same reason. So some kind of lifting or swing bridge would be the favourite.
'A bascule bridge is most likely, but again, this would not be open enough to make it worthwhile, ' said O'Hara. 'The only way we think it could work is to have two bridges, one at each end of the lock, so that we could switch between the two as ships enter the lock.'
Built in 1842, Ipswich Port was born to service the agricultural market. Silting of the port's natural wharves had been threatening the town's future.
Designed by Henry Palmer, the port was for many years the largest in Europe. The cost of this mighty scheme - just £85,000.
Originally, the port was built with the lock gates in an illogical position, so ships had to negotiate a side channel.
This was too tight a turning circle for visiting merchant vessels so local traders, who typically used smaller ships, were able to exploit a commercial advantage.
Eventually, re-modernisation saw the existing gates built in their current, more accessible position.