A47 upgrade is back on the agenda
- Credit: PA
Drivers and businesses were given a boost today after the transport secretary exclusively revealed to the EDP that the long-awaited upgrade to the A47 is back on the agenda.
A study looking at where improvements could be made on the road between Great Yarmouth and Peterborough will be commissioned by Patrick McLoughlin in a bid to identify where investment can be made, and when.
But while business leaders and politicians have welcomed news that it will be added to a priority list, they have called for swift and tangible action to improve the major road artery after years of talk.
Campaigners hope it could generate 10,000 jobs, secure a £390m annual economic boost and attract up to £800m of private investment.
The region was dealt a blow in June after the A47 was left out of the government's spending blueprint for 2015 to 2020.
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The Treasury said it would commission feasibility studies for roads improvements elsewhere as part of a £100 billion splurge on infrastructure - but the A47 was missing from the list.
However the A47 now joins other routes, including the A303 and the A1 north of Lincolnshire, as schemes which could be in line for a slice of road upgrade cash.
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Mr McLoughlin said: 'The A47 is a strategically very important route. The area we are going to be looking at specifically goes from Peterborough to Great Yarmouth so it is a quite important route as far as connecting areas are concerned, and that is one of the reasons why we have looked specifically at getting the feasibility study on that.'
He acknowledged the united drive by business and council leaders in publishing an eight-page prospectus - the A47 Gateway to Growth - which outlines 'an achievable programme of targeted improvements' along the congested route.
He said he wanted Norfolk County Council, the Highways Agency and others to work together on the new study.
Broadland MP Keith Simpson, who has been part of the A47 Gateway to Growth campaign, said: 'I warmly welcome the fact that the A47 is back on the spending agenda.
'We must keep up the pressure and really prove the case of why we need to begin the dualling of the A47, recognising that within the length of the Norfolk bit there are going to be priorities for Norfolk and others for the government. We want to see tangible results on the A47.'
Nick Daubney, leader of West Norfolk Council, said that west Norfolk was 'desperate' for an upgrade of the major road, which links the town with both east Norfolk and the Midlands.
'If we want the East's economy to come close to the national standard we need the local infrastructure and communications. We would say these road improvements are essential and would be 'money well spent'.
'Let's stop talking about it, let's get on with it,' he added.
Trevor Gates, regional manager at Swaffham-based grain trader Gleadell Agriculture, said: 'From our perspective, as a major exporter out of Great Yarmouth, anything that improves the road links is a great advantage for us.
But he said: 'We have heard all this so many times and nothing has materialised. We want to see dualling the whole way across.' Mr McLoughlin said: 'We have secured a huge increase in road investment between 2015 and 2020, that was announced in the spending review, so along with the improvements that we have already seen as far as the railways are concerned we also have this extra money available for roads as well.'
'One of the things I am very keen to do is, in a similar way we do with the railways, is to have a five year plan which challenges the Highways Agency to do certain things and part of looking at that will be to commission a feasibility study on the A47 to see what improvements and changes are needed.'
David Harrison, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, said it was a very welcome announcement.
'If ever a road was in need of fast-tracking, it's the A47. The government is clearly taking notice of the groundswell right along the A47, from the A1 to Great Yarmouth, for something to be done about this critical but neglected part of the Trans European Network.
'The county council and New Anglia LEP set out the case for accelerating the improvement of the A47 in the 'Gateway to Growth' prospectus, and this has been key in winning support at the highest level. We will keep on making the case for the A47 until it becomes the high quality route that it should be, supporting rather than hindering business and the local economy.'
New Anglia local enterprise partnership chairman Andy Wood said the A47 was of 'critical importance', linking Great Yarmouth, Norwich and King's Lynn to Peterborough and national routes to the Midlands and the North.
'It is also strategic in unlocking growth in the region; studies have shown that investment in improvements to the A47 corridor from Great Yarmouth to King's Lynn could generate 9,615 new jobs and 3,200 new homes. So we would welcome the sustainable development of this vital road without delay,' he added.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'The announcement of a feasibility study into the A47 is just what we needed to hear in our continued fight to make sure that this strategic artery road receives the funding it urgently requires.'
• WHO OWNS THE LAND?
Exactly who owns land along the A47 will be a key part of the study to be carried out over the next year or so.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin admitted he was not 100pc sure who the landowners were along the trunk road, but that the report would be tasked with finding out.
Norfolk County Council has already produced an improvement plan looking at what the potential cost and benefits of schemes along the road between Great Yarmouth and Peterborough would be. Mr McLoughlin said: 'I have seen what the local authority have already put forward and some of it may well be done relatively quickly.'
He added that while there would be no time limit on the study, he hoped it would be completed towards the end of next year – and include some ideas about how work could progress.
He said: 'It may be that some of the bits can be done in different ways.
'I'm not 100% sure of what land we own or what land the highways agency owns or what land the councils own. Land ownership is often the problem when it comes to looking at road issues. That will be one of the things that it will be based on.'
The A47 is among a number of studies which have been commissioned for roads around the country, including for the A303 in the West Country which was announced by the Treasury in the Spending Review in June.
• TRANSPORT SECRETARY DEFENDS PLANS TO FAST-TRACK NDR
'We have to get on with the job,' transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said, as he defended plans to fast-track the Norwich Northern Distributor Road.
Hitting back at accusations speeding the road through the planning process was 'undemocratic', Mr McLoughlin said due planning process would take place.
The EDP revealed yesterday that the £141.5m scheme, which has been on the drawing board for a decade, has been deemed of national significance. The government has already pledged £86.5m towards the scheme, which will go from the A140 to the A1067.
Business leaders have long backed the road which they say will boost the county's economy, but critics say it would do nothing to ease congestion and is merely a means to develop on countryside to the north and east of Norwich.
Mr McLoughlin said: 'The due planning process always has to take place. We are criticised if we don't get on with these plans and if we take too long. Due planning process has to be respected, so proper process has to take place, but we have to get on with the job as well.
He added: 'Easing congestion, ensuring that people can get about and use our road and rail network is something that is vitally important. In today's society, communications and getting from A to B is vitally important.'