A lot has happened since the Government and Suffolk County Council agreed to provide the funding for the Third Crossing in 2016. Survey work and ground and environmental investigations have taken place, property (including the former coal yard on Denmark Road) has been bought and detailed plans prepared, which in the autumn of 2017 were put out for formal public consultation.
96% of those responding were in favour of the bridge and once the plans had been amended to take account of some issues that had been raised in the consultation, the planning application was submitted to the nationally based Planning Inspectorate, who are the planning authority responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport for schemes of this size and nature.
There is a legal timetable within which such planning applications are considered. Firstly there is a 6 month period during which the Government appointed Inspector considers the planning application. This ran from 6 December 2018 to 6 June 2019.
Secondly the Inspector then has three months to write their report with recommendations which is then submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport. This period ended on 6 September. Finally the Secretary of State then has 3 months to issue the planning decision, which is based on the Inspector’s report.
This period was due to finish on 6 December, which is during the General Election campaign. Electoral protocol that applies during such campaigns means that it is not possible for the decision to be announced on or just before 6 December as was originally scheduled. The decision will therefore be announced after a new Government has been appointed and a new Secretary of State is in office. This delay is disappointing, though in the circumstances it is unavoidable and ultimately it should not lead to any delay in the work starting on the ground in building the bridge.
At present, Suffolk County Council, who are project managing the scheme, are negotiating with construction companies, prior to placing the contract for building the Third Crossing. This procurement process should be completed in the next few months, by when the planning approval should have been received and the work can start, which will take approximately two years to complete. This will mean that the bridge will open in 2022.