By Jon Sergeant
A new canal, Britain’s first for more than 100 years, will link Felixstowe to the Midlands to solve Suffolk’s crippling road congestion.
The waterway, to be called the Suffolk Floater, will run special barges adapted to take containers traditionally used on heavy goods vehicles.
It will wipe out the need for most of the lorries clogging up the A12 to London and the A14 towards the Midlands – and it will slash the number of freight trains that impede commuter services to the capital every day.
The canal will cost a billion pounds, but by using zero hours contracts and migrant workers, ministers expect to come in under budget. They also believe that cash benefits from waterways leisure tourism will help recoup most of the cost in the future.
Huge environmental benefits have further persuaded the Government that the canal is the way forward.
The canal will start at Felixstowe Port and head alongside the A14 towards Ipswich, then out past Stowmarket, Bury and Newmarket to Cambridge.
From there is heads to Northampton, where it will connect to the existing UK canal network, enabling the barges to head north, continue to the West Midlands, across to London or the South West.
Special terminals built along the route will allow lorries to take containers off the barges to allow an onward journey to destinations away from the canal system.
The Suffolk Gazette understands that the transport industry was concerned about the time it would take for a container to travel along the canal at 4mph.
But once shown the cost benefits, and upon being told the British Waterways Authority would raise the speed limit to 6mph, they have signed up to the plan.
The canal will be completed in just three years since there will be no need for locks to be built in the flat landscape.
A government insider said: “The solution to Suffolk’s transports woes is a simple yet radical one. We’ll turn the clock back more than 100 years and use the water like the Victorians did, embracing a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly mode of transport.
“This will free up the region’s clogged roads, and leave railway lines for passenger rather than freight.
“And in doing so we’ll create hundreds of construction jobs – then enjoy a growth in leisure businesses along the whole stretch from Felixstowe to Northampton.”
A study of the proposed route shows some houses will need to be raised on stilts to allow the canal to run underneath.
One of those likely to affected is Bert Weedon of Bramford, near Ipswich. He said: “I don’t mind. Having a canal running underneath the house will be a big selling point.
“Plus with stilts we’ll have brilliant views from the living room.”
The news is the second big transport boost for Suffolk in weeks, after the Suffolk Gazette revealed a new tube line was being built from London to Ipswich. It could also mean the proposed 20mph speed limit on the A12 could be axed.