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EXCLUSIVE Joseph Watts, Political editor
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
A transport minister has given a major boost to hopes for an upgrade of the A47.
Stephen Hammond, responsible for roads policy, said the government will next year begin to look seriously at the case for funding much-needed improvements to the A47 between Great Yarmouth and Peterborough.
And he told the Eastern Daily Press improvements could be delivered as part of a series of pilot schemes the government is planning to fund.
He made the suggestion after a meeting with campaigners from East Anglia including Norfolk MPs, councillors and business representatives.
Meanwhile the EDP also understands that officials from the Department for Transport will now work with counterparts at Norfolk County Council to see how the A47 upgrade can move forward.
Mr Hammond said: “The A47 campaign came to me and they had put together a very powerful and well constructed argument.
“They have moved substantially forward from where they were two years ago. They have the local authorities, MPs and the local enterprise partnership all working together.
“I certainly recognise that the A47 is a corridor of strategic importance, and I think I did give them hope there is going to be progress on this project.”
Last month Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, other MPs, Norfolk County Council and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership launched a united drive to convince the government of the overwhelming business case for the upgrade.
Their prospectus, called “A47 Gateway to Growth”, said that over 20 years a combination of selected dualling and junction improvements would generate nearly 10,000 jobs, secure a £390m annual economic boost and attract up to £800m of private investment.
But yesterday Mr Hammond suggested work on the A47 may start sooner than anyone has previously hoped for.
He said the government is funding three “route-based strategies” in the current financial year to upgrade roads across the country; the A1 in Newcastle, the M62 from Leeds to Manchester and the A12 near Harwich.
The three strategies, being executed by the Highways Agency, will then inform funding decisions to be made in the next government spending review period from 2015 onwards.
He told the EDP: “I was able to say to them that we could look at it as one of the future route based strategies from 2013.
“While I haven’t been able to commit to any funding at this stage, the case was very powerful and we will look at it.”
He went on: “I was saying to the campaigners that they have developed a case along the lines of what we wanted and I’m convinced this could be the 4th or 5th scheme to put into this route-based strategy process.”
Speaking after the meeting Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, who has been the lead MP on the campaign, said: “It was a very positive meeting, Mr Hammond said he was taking a serious look at the business case.
“He said how we were far ahead of where we had been last year. He said because of the economic benefits the government recognised it as a route of strategic importance.”
Meanwhile Broadland MP Keith Simpson said: “At the moment there are three of these route-based strategies and he thinks that this could be the fourth.
“That’s about the most positive thing we’ve heard from a minister. He’s not talked about money or funding, it’s going to be a process.
“I’ve been to meetings with ministers over 15 years and they mostly listen and then say there’s no money or it’s not a priority; none of those things happened today.”
The business case put together by the campaigners also showed a 30-minute reduction in journey time on the 105-mile road from Great Yarmouth to Peterborough could be worth £42m a year to road users.