No A14 upgrade without a toll - roads minister Robert Goodwill

The heart of the matter  congestion on the A14.

The heart of the matter congestion on the A14. - Credit: Archant

There will be no A14 upgrade without a toll.

That was the stark message from new roads minister Robert Goodwill in his first interview on the controversial £1.5billion project.

MP warns of knock-on effects of tolling the A14Click here to show your support for the campaign against tolling the A14

The new face in the Department for Transport, who has taken over responsibility for the A14 upgrade, said it had only become viable because a fifth of the cost would be met by charging drivers.

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But Suffolk's MPs believe they have new hopes of keeping the road free after meeting prime minister David Cameron.

The six MPs met Mr Cameron earlier this week and believed that he took their concerns to heart.

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They described the meeting as 'constructive' and felt he now had a better understanding of Suffolk's worries – adding they felt he would raise their concerns in his own meetings with transport ministers.

Mr Goodwill's comments, in an interview with the Eastern Daily Press, come weeks after a consultation into the road scheme closed. Mr Goodwill said a fifth of the £1.5bn scheme was to be financed through tolls and because of that the scheme had become viable.

'At the time the project was signed off, the only way it could be delivered was by having tolls, which would bring in £25m a year that would be around about £1 or £1.50 for cars and double for lorries.

'Given the congestion on that road I think road users would rather pay a toll to get where they are going, than get stuck in congestion on that part of the A14.'

But there is major opposition to the plans in the region from businesses who claim plans to charge tolls to help fund an upgrade of the A14 had been 'badly conceived and poorly executed'. The No Toll Tax on Suffolk campaign, launched by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, claims that, with no proper cost-benefit analysis having been carried out, there is no reliable case for introducing the charges.

The Government's proposals include improvements to the Cambridge section of the A14, which would remain toll-free, and the construction of a new section of road south of Huntingdon which would be the subject of tolls between 6am and 10pm.

Part of the existing elevated section of the A14 in Huntingdon would be demolished, with weight restrictions on the town's remodelled road network leaving lorry drivers with the choice of paying the toll or taking a lengthy diversion.

Concerns have been raised that events were not held in the wider region, despite many businesses and haulier companies being affected by the proposed measures.

According to the Highways Agency, more than 800 people responded to the online questionnaire and a consultation report summarising what was said will be published later this year, with plans for the preferred route also set to be confirmed.

Mr Goodwill said: 'I don't think I've had any members of parliament in that neck of the woods lobbying me to have tolls.

'I am aware of the issues and I am being lobbied and have listened to what is being said to me, and I certainly will consider all the points that have been made to me.'

But he said later: 'I have seen the line on the map and the way the scheme is going to be delivered is now decided.'

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