December 11 2013 Latest news:
Monday, September 16, 2013
Long-awaited improvements to the A47 moved a step closer last night after a government minister said the key route was ranked in the top six in the country for future roads funding.
Transport minister Stephen Hammond declared that the route, which runs through the heart of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, had a strong chance of receiving government funding between 2015 and 2020.
The minister responsible for the nation’s road network said a feasibility study by the Highways Agency was set to be completed by the end of 2014, which would examine the costs and benefits of upgrading the busy A-road.
Mr Hammond yesterday said he was “impressed” with the cases made by local MPs and campaigners over the potential benefits of speeding up journeys on the 105-mile route from Great Yarmouth to Peterborough.
However, the government minister said he could not rule out the possibility of tolls to help fund improvements.
Campaigners believe a series of dualling projects and junction upgrades along the road between Yarmouth and Peterborough, plus a new river crossing in Yarmouth, would within 20 years help further unlock the region’s economic potential by creating an extra 10,000 jobs and a £390m a year increase in economic output.
Mr Hammond dedicated a full day from his busy schedule yesterday to travel along the full stretch of the A47, starting from Yarmouth, to see for himself the areas that could grow with better road infrastructure investment and parts of the road that needed road safety upgrades.
He also met with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire MPs, Norfolk County Council officials and leaders, and members of the A47 Alliance to hear their evidence that improvements to the A47 could lead to an additional private investment of over £800m and could lead to a 30-minute reduction in journey times, worth £42m a year to road users.
Mr Hammond, who stopped off near Norwich, on his A47 tour, said there was a strong economic case for upgrading the route.
“They [local MPs] have stressed how important the route is and I am grateful to them. The A47 is one of the top six key feasibility studies for the Highways Agency and that will take place next year, which will inform our decision.
“I recognise they want us to wave a magic wand, but we do not have a magic wand. By making it a top feasibility study, we recognise the strategic importance of the road.
“I understand that there have been some serious accidents this year, but there are things that can be done to improve road safety in the short term,” he said.
A major upgrade of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon will see drivers paying between £1 and £3 on a toll road as part of new government proposals.
However, when asked about the potential of tolls on the A47, Mr Hammond said: “We are not ruling it in or out. It is a question of each road for itself and there is a huge amount of government money being put into road schemes.”
George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP, said the A47 was an important route for the county’s offshore sector and agriculture industry. He added that just because the A14 was going down a tolling route, did not mean the A47 would.
“Unlike the A14, large parts of Norfolk rely on the A47 as the only route for getting around the county. Tolling on the A14 should not be seen as a sign that it has to be the right solution here,” he added.
“I am absolutely delighted that he [Stephen Hammond] accepted my invitation to come and see for himself the urgency of the A47 as a strategic route.
“It is a trade route, not a commuter route, and has been neglected for far too long.
“If you are going to unlock the East Anglian economy, this artery needs to be unblocked.”
The region was dealt a blow in June after the A47 was left out of the government’s spending blueprint for 2015 to 2020.
However, the government announced last month that the A47 was back on the list to receive a potential share of a £100bn splurge on national infrastructure schemes.
The A47 Alliance met on Friday to work out the priority schemes for the 105-mile route between Yarmouth and Peterborough.
A new Wisbech bypass, improvements to the King’s Lynn Hardwick roundabout, the Vauxhall roundabout, near Great Yarmouth, and the A11 junction at Thickthorn were also identified as the “short-term priority” areas.
Dualling of the Acle Straight was only listed as a medium-term improvement, while more research was done on the scheme.
Dualling the sections between Easton and North Tuddenham as well as Blofield to Burlingham were also described as medium-term options, while a new bypass at East Winch and Middleton was described as a “fairly long way off”.
Keith Simpson, Broadland MP, said the visit from the roads minister was a “big boost” for the A47 campaign.
“Coming here means that he now has a better feel for the geography and landscape and the importance of the A47 on the economy for Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.
“We want to get something started and that is what people from Norfolk want and have waited so long for. I think we are beginning to move forward,” he said.
George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, added that it was “extremely encouraging” that the A47 was in the top six road schemes in the country for further Highways Agency work.
“We have been campaigning for road infrastructure improvements for as long as I can remember and Norfolk and East Anglia has not got its fair share in the past,” he said.
“The minister has been extremely impressed by the way we presented our case.”
Mr Nobbs added that he would be against any introduction of tolls to pay for road improvements.
“Considering what we have had to put up with for years, if we had tolls imposed on us, it would be very cruel,” he said.