Government policy on who should pay for port infrastructure such as A14 is “confused”, say MPs

The Port of Felixstowe.

The Port of Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

Controversial proposals to charge hauliers to use the A14 to help ease congestion to the region's ports have been dubbed 'inconsistent' by an influential group of MPs.

A damning report out today, which concludes local road bottlenecks are hindering access to UK sea ports like Felixstowe and Harwich, says government policy on who should pay for port infrastructure is 'confused'.

In evidence to the Transport Select Committee ports inquiry, the Haven Gateway Partnership - which is made up of Suffolk and Essex councils and business leaders - said there was a 'lack of a level playing field' when it came to infrastructure investment for ports.

A high-profile campaign by local businesses and hauliers has been launched against plans to help pay for a £1.5bn upgrade to the A14 through a toll, which many say will put the region at a disadvantage.

It said the region was being told that developers in East Anglia would have to pay - both directly and through road tolls - yet elsewhere in the UK it seemed probable that public sector investment would be made available.

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Transport select committee chairman Louise Ellman said: 'It is clear that better access (to Felixstowe and Harwich) is required, for the freight line as well and also the road. It is important that access is improved. 'We would like the government to be much clearer about the importance it attaches to ports and access to them and a more consistent approach to who is paying for it.

'We are saying there should be fairness and the importance of ports to the economy should be recognised.'

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Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin yesterday told the East Anglian Daily Times that the government had not yet made up its mind on whether to introduce a charge, but said the improvements 'had to go ahead'.

Mr McLoughlin, who will ultimately make a decision about whether a toll is introduced, said: 'It is a massive road scheme. It represents 20% of the total roads programme, but it is a vitally important scheme. It has got to go ahead, it has got to be done.'

He said that the Prime Minister - who met Suffolk MPs over concerns about the tolls earlier this month - had told him things 'had to be looked at properly'.

'That is what we are doing,' he said. 'At the moment we are consulting on tolling and I'm listening to that consultation, along with what the prime minister has said, and he has said that all things have got to be looked at properly.

'What I am not prepared to do and what I am not going to do is do anything that slows down the particular scheme. It is essential for the country.'

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