Election 2015 England

Election 2015: 'Referendum' over Lowestoft's third crossing

Image caption The Bascule Bridge is the only road crossing at the eastern end of Lowestoft's man-made waterway

Lowestoft has been waiting for a third water crossing for decades, making it one of the country's longest planning proposals.

What hope is there that it will finally happen? And what do the town's election candidates say about it?

According to one candidate, the general election will effectively be a "referendum" in Lowestoft on the issue of the third crossing.

Most of the 60,000 people in Britain's most easterly town, which is divided into north and south by the waterway, agree a new link is vital.

The argument now centres on where to build it.

One of the existing road crossings is at the Oulton Broad end of Lake Lothing. The other is at the harbour end in Lowestoft town centre, where traffic is brought to a standstill when the Bascule Bridge swings into the up position to allow boats through.

Image caption When the Bascule Bridge opens, traffic has to wait on either side

The Lowestoft & Waveney Chamber of Commerce said traffic congestion caused by the Bascule Bridge going up was a "disincentive to further investment" in the town, which has lost most of its fishing industry, but has seen some growth with the offshore energy industry.

James Reeder, chairman of the chamber, said a new crossing was "an essential part of delivering certainty for our businesses".

Image copyright Mike page
Image caption Lake Lothing (photographed looking west) is crossed by the Bascule Bridge at the harbour end
Image copyright WSP
Image caption WSP's option for the eastern location crosses the water next to the existing Bascule Bridge
Image copyright Andrew Woodger
Image caption Peter Colby's design for a barrage would involve damming the lake and having a lock
Image copyright Peter Colby
Image caption Peter Colby's barrage design was similar to this one in The Netherlands

But successive political leaders have failed to secure the funding to make it happen.

The Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council led the process of preparing a bid to central government for the crossing and, in December, commissioned a survey to look at three sites and said its preferred option was to build a new bridge next to the existing Bascule Bridge.

Engineers WSP concluded this "eastern" option represented best value at £95m.

Council leader Mark Bee said on 26 March that "the feasibility study allows us to be more ambitious for Lowestoft and anything could be on the table now", but a week later he announced he would be standing down as leader.

What happens next might depend on who is elected, so BBC News asked the five declared candidates for Waveney for their views.

Peter Aldous, Conservative

Mr Aldous, who won the seat in 2010 from Labour with a majority of 769 votes, said the government had already committed to provide £2m for an in-depth study and the town should be aiming to get that funding in place between 2020 and 2025.

He said: "The WSP report was helpful in identifying the issues, but further work needs to be done to establish the best design and best location.

"The central one does provide the best link between the Northern Spine Road and Southern Relief Road, but my first preference is to work towards a central bridge crossing.

"A barrage doesn't work - the £65m cost is an underestimation, you would have to backfill a lot of Lake Lothing and it would severely impact on the potential of the port and the opportunities that are coming out of the offshore wind sector."

Graham Elliot, Green

Mr Elliot said: "What we need is two reliable road crossings and we would favour a massive investment in public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure, which would promote more sustainable and health-promoting modes of travel.

"The cycle and footbridge proposal at the central, Brooke Peninsula part of Lake Lothing would radically change travel opportunities, making non-motorised travel the obvious choice for many journeys.

"Even if we got a 20% reduction in car traffic across those two existing bridges, it would make a huge difference to the town."

Bob Blizzard, Labour

Bob Blizzard, who was Waveney MP 1997-2010, has backed a scheme from local businessman Peter Colby for a central barrage and lock crossing linking Waveney Drive with Rotterdam Road, costing £65m.

Mr Blizzard said: "We do not understand why they want to put a new bridge beside the Bascule Bridge - both will have to lift up at the same time and all the traffic would still funnel to the same place.

"May 7 is a referendum really on what crossing you want - whether you want this nonsense or what we're proposing which would link up the Southern Relief Road to the newly-completed Northern Spine Road.

"In terms of delivery, Ed Miliband [Labour leader] came to Lowestoft and said if he was leading a government, he would support a bid and make funding available.

"If I were elected, I would treat that as a mandate from the people and wage a massive campaign for Suffolk County Council to change tack."

Steve Gordon, Liberal Democrats

Mr Gordon favours a central location for the crossing.

"What you want is a smooth transition from south to north, otherwise there's still going to be congestion - the option near the existing bridge just doesn't make sense at all," he said.

"The [dualling of the] A11's been completed during a time of austerity, because it's important and we're now talking about doing up parts of the A47 from Norwich to King's Lynn.

"We're now coming out of austerity and this is the opportune time to push this."

Simon Tobin, UKIP

Mr Tobin said he also favoured Peter Colby's barrage and lock proposal.

Mr Tobin said: "You will never get Simon Tobin or UKIP saying, as soon as we get elected, there'll be a bridge, because everyone has had that all before, but it's our job to fight and bring it up the political agenda.

"If you look at the European Union, this country pays £55m a day to be a member, so [the cost of the bridge is less than] two days' membership."

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