A11 dualling becomes an early election issue in the region

Adam GrettonThe full dualling of the A11 became an early election issue for the region last night after it emerged that a decision on the vital road scheme will not be made until after May 6.Adam Gretton

The full dualling of the A11 became an early election issue for the region last night after it emerged that a decision on the vital road scheme will not be made until after May 6.

The EDP urged ministers to 'get on and dual it' on January 29 when a public inquiry into the upgrade of the road between Thetford and Barton Mills came to an end.

But campaigners spoke of their frustration after having to wait until the outcome of the general election - called by Gordon Brown yesterday - for a decision on the multi-million pound project.

Leading politicians and business leaders had hoped that the nine mile road widening scheme could be rubberstamped before the race for 10 Downing Street began.

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Now the final leg of the A11 upgrade could be overseen by a different minister after transport secretary Lord Adonis ran out of time to back the project. The secretary of state has yet to receive the report of planning inspector Neil Taylor, who oversaw the A11 public inquiry, which came to a close nine weeks ago.

The inspector's findings are due to be sent to the government later this month , but not in time to be passed before parliament is officially dissolved on Monday .

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The project, which would cost between �106m and �147m, is estimated to be worth almost �600m to the Norfolk economy and would improve safety, capacity, and journey times along the A11, as well as improving the quality of life for people living in Elveden.

Charles Clarke, Norwich South MP, yesterday said he was still hopeful that the Highways Agency works could start as timetabled at the end of the year.

'I am extremely disappointed that the planning inspector's decision has taken so long and has not reached the secretary of state by this time. I will continue campaigning for this and hope the new government after May 6, whatever party, will complete this process because it is so important to the Norfolk economy. I am sure this will be an election issue and Labour is committed to the dualling,' he said.

A fully dualled road between Norwich and London was first raised by Edward Heath's Conservative government almost 40 years ago and is scheduled for an autumn 2010 start date, if approved by whoever is transport secretary after the election.

Elizabeth Truss, Conservative parliamentary candidate for South West Norfolk, yesterday accused Labour of being 'too slow' in delivering the project.

'It is a huge shame that Labour failed in their 13 years in power to approve this. The A11 is extremely high on my agenda as local candidate. It is very important for the economic development for the area and I will be fighting that it is on the list of projects that retain funding,' she said.

Matthew Hancock, Conservative parliamentary candidate for West Suffolk, added: 'It [the A11] is important for west Suffolk and for the rest of East Anglia too. The current government has left the nation's finances in a terrible state, but I will be making the case for it.'

The EDP has been campaigning for the dualling scheme since the early 1980s, which has been the victim of Whitehall spending reviews over the years. Campaigners are hoping that the A11 is immune to potential public sector cuts following the general election.

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'While it is disappointing the inspector's report on the A11 will now have to be considered by the incoming secretary of state, we will do whatever we can do ensure the crucial importance of the scheme to Norfolk people and the Norfolk economy, is brought to his or her attention as soon as possible.'

'The case for dualling the A11 has been accepted by the major parties and we will not rest until the scheme gets the final go ahead.'

Five individuals and the Elveden Estate had opposed the A11 dualling at the public inquiry over the lack of a junction linking the B1112 and the impact on the Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: 'The A11 is an important scheme for the east of England and for the country as whole. 'The department always considers planning inspectors' reports in detail and this one will be no exception. At present we cannot speculate about how long this process will take.'

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