Anger at delay on A47 improvements

Hopes that important safety work on one of Norfolk's most notorious stretches of road could be carried out at last have been dashed by the Highways Agency.

Political leaders have been pressing for roadside ditches to be moved back from the A47 Acle Straight between Great Yarmouth and Acle for more than six years following two tragic accidents in which drivers died after they became trapped under water.

In an another accident in 2007 a baby was rescued from an upturned car in a ditch and miraculously survived after being submerged for five minutes..

A minister announced in the summer of 2005 that a �40,000 trial would be carried out to see whether ditches along the nine-mile stretch could be moved back without disturbing delicate marshland habitat.

However, following years of delay, amid accusations the Highways Agency was not pursuing negotiations with landowners sufficiently urgently, Norfolk County Council received a letter on Friday saying the Agency had no money for the ditch re-alignment scheme in its 2011-12 budget.

Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for travel and transport, said another year's delay was 'deeply disappointing' and said he had asked county officers to write back to the Agency to convey the authority's dissatisfaction.

He said he had been pressing the Agency for news on the scheme's progress for months and he was 'really, really annoyed' he had received no communication ahead of the decision.

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'People have drowned in these ditches and moving them back from the road is elementary safety,' he said.

The potential dangers of the road had been highlighted just in the last month when there had been at least three accidents, he added.

Mr Plant is chairman of the A47 Alliance, the group of local authorities along the A47 route pressing for road improvements, and he said they had written to the new local economic partnership, New Anglia, asking to become its transport lobby group so they could step up their work.

Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis also described the Highways Agency decision as 'hugely disappointing' and said he would today be writing to Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond to re-state the case for moving the ditches.

He said: 'When I have spoken to police about the dangers of the Acle Straight the point has been made that many injuries that occur have not come from the collision itself but from ending up in the ditch because there's nowhere to go.

'Another point is that in the much longer term, if we are ever going to dual the Acle Straight, moving the ditches would be a necessary first step.'

Mr Lewis conceded the government could not spend money it had not got but said it was important to keep up the pressure so when cash became available it would be considered.

Father-of-two Glenn Fransham, 38, a heath professional at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, drowned in his upturned Mazda in a roadside ditch following a crash in January 2005; the tragedy came just six weeks after retired Gorleston bank manager Basil Jackson, 74, died on the same stretch of road when his Audi was also left upturned in a ditch after an accident.

It was in January 2007 that Horsham haulier Graham D'Eath, 48, plunged into a freezing dyke to rescue a nine-month-old baby trapped upside down in a car seat under water. He said at the time that the accident reinforced the case for safety improvements.

A planned pedestrian crossing on the A47 at Middleton near King's Lynn will also not be funded this year, a decision local county councillor Janet Murphy described as 'extremely disappointing'.

The crossing has been the subject of a long campaign by villagers and hopes were raised at the end of last year when 'positive support' came from the Highways Agency.

The village is dissected by the A47 and some parents had not been allowing their children to walk to school because the road was deemed too dangerous to cross.

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