There has been a lot of discussion about the Love Woodbridge and Melton Project recently on social media. The comments suggest that the purpose of the project remains unclear and residents are fearful that it will have a detrimental impact on their lives. Although this is not Melton Parish Council’s project, we have spent a lot of time working with the Suffolk County Council team and County Councillor Alexander Nicoll to discover what the project hopes to achieve and how Melton might get some benefit from any funding awarded. The following outlines what we know so far about the project and I hope explains what Melton Parish Council (MPC) has been doing and what we are hoping to achieve by engaging with the project team.
In February 2020 the Government announced £2bn of funding nationally for active travel to support its aim to double cycling and increase walking by 2025. This was to encourage all Local Authorities to deliver new and improved active travel infrastructure that benefits individuals, communities and the wider society.
Suffolk County Council (SCC) was invited to submit an expression of interest for ‘intensive investment’ in a ‘Mini-Holland’ scheme. These schemes are intended to increase walking and cycling levels while having minimal impact on the surrounding roads over the longer-term.
Having assessed various locations across the county, SCC strongly believed that Woodbridge, linking with some of Melton, could be best-placed to capitalise on the huge benefits of the funding for this type of scheme. To deliver the scheme, SCC intended to introduce: –
- Marketing campaigns to encourage people to walk and cycle more
- Free cycle training for all
- Engagement with schools and creation of school safe streets
- Updated town cycle maps and include walking routes
- Frequent Dr Bike sessions and training for people to maintain their own bikes
- Incentives for businesses to support staff to active travel (i.e. to walk or cycle)
- Car clubs (to share similar journeys)
- Cycle, ebike and ecargo bike hire schemes.
Physical measures would include: –
- Creation of low traffic neighbourhoods through a range of trials leading to permanent changes based on the outcomes
- Delivery of high priority segregated walking and cycling routes to neighbouring communities such as Martlesham, Melton and Grundisburgh
- Redesign of key junctions to place pedestrians and cyclists as the highest priority road user
- Further pedestrianisation of the main retail area in the town centre
- Reallocation of road space to widen footways for pedestrians particularly on main direct routes into the town centre
- Improved and secure cycle parking at all key destinations in the town as well as working with estates within the town to create similar in residential areas
The hope was that by improving the walking and cycling options, residents would feel more inclined to walk, cycle, scoot or use mobility aids rather than using their cars for short journeys because; –
- Road Safety would improve
- Air quality would improve
- Health and wellbeing would improve; and
- The economy of Woodbridge and the surrounding area would improve because of less traffic in the main shopping areas.
In May 2022 £80k was awarded to SCC to work up a detailed feasibility study which was used to apply for the Active Travel England funding, competing against other authorities in the country.
Over the following 6 months, MPC raised several concerns about the proposals being put forward because of the potential major impact on the Bury Hill area, Woods Lane, Wilford Bridge Road, Melton Road and the crossroads. We were concerned that roads considered as ‘rat runs’ were in fact access roads heavily used by residents and the outlying villages beyond Melton to access Woodbridge and its facilities. Closure of some of these roads might increase traffic on other roads already heavily congested and would close off direct access to some village facilities.
The Parish Council and Cllr Nicoll continued to voice concerns about the proposals being put forward. In February 2023, there were still references to Station Road and Bredfield Road being rat runs but at least MPC had managed to influence the submission with a statement about increased consultation needing to take place.
The feasibility study bid for £17m to undertake measures across Woodbridge and Melton. However, the Government cut funding for Active Travel England’s programme from £200m to £50m over 2 years. As a result of this and MPC’s concerns about the proposals for Melton, the SCC project team decided to focus on infrastructure proposals in the south and centre of Woodbridge, building on previous discussions with Woodbridge Town Council particularly around 20mph speed limits.
SCC received £5.13m for these physical infrastructure measures in Woodbridge. However, as we understand it, what will be installed in Woodbridge has yet to be finalised. Throughout September, several opportunities to drop in and talk to the project team have been made available to allow you to find out more about the proposals and to voice your thoughts. Further engagement opportunities are expected to take place.
Proposals for Melton are still on the table for discussion to be funded in the next phases of the overall project when monies are released by Government. It is likely that additional funding will also be dependent on the success of and support for the first phase in Woodbridge.
The Parish Council thinks it is a good thing to improve facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and those using wheelchairs and/or mobility scooters. We want to see our pavements and roads improved and we would like to see better opportunities to walk and cycle in parts of the village where it might be possible to do so. During Covid, because the local roads were a lot quieter, many people felt safer and would happily use an alternative method for short distances rather than using their cars. Sadly, with traffic levels returning to pre-pandemic levels, some now feel much safer jumping in their cars than using an alternative. MPC thinks that with investment, certain facilities could be improved making it safer for people to walk or cycle again, reducing congestion and improving the local environment. However, it is essential that options are researched, data is analysed and residents consulted before any changes are made. Wherever possible, changes should be made initially on a temporary basis so that their effects can be evaluated.
MPC will continue to post information about the project as it becomes available on its website (www.melton-suffolk-pc.gov.uk) and you are welcome to come along to Full Council meetings where the project will continue to be discussed. Meeting dates are on the website and the village noticeboards.
We understand information will also be posted on the SCC project website and Facebook page.
Carol Gradwell, Chair of Melton Parish Council