New hope in A11 dualling campaign

EXCLUSIVEThe final piece of a jigsaw that will complete the dualling of the A11 between Norwich and London took a huge step forward last night after the government ordered a start on key preparation work.

EXCLUSIVE

The final piece of a jigsaw that will complete the dualling of the A11 between Norwich and London took a huge step forward last night after the government ordered a start on key preparation work.

Politicians, businesses leaders, and transport officials spoke of their optimism after it emerged that construction work on the long-awaited fast track upgrade of the road between Thetford and Barton Mills/Fiveways roundabout could start within three years.

Roads minister Stephen Ladyman has instructed the Highways Agency to press ahead with the two year statutory process, which will pave the way for the £101m scheme - the culmination of a campaign that started more than 30 years ago.

Officials hope that the government backing will put added pressure on the East of England Regional Assembly to bring forward the seven mile dualling project, which is currently not budgeted for until at least 2011/12.

The news follows talks between Christopher Fraser, MP for South West Norfolk, and members of the Thetford-based Gateway A11 East Campaign with Mr Ladyman last month.

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Brian Stewart, chief executive of EERA has already told Mr Fraser that he would “expect” the scheme to be one of the region's “top transport priorities”, and to become a funded scheme at the “very earliest opportunity.”

Mr Fraser yesterday said he was delighted that the preparatory work on the A11 upgrade was being done now, which will allow construction work to start as soon as funding becomes available. Without the background effort on Highway Act Orders and Compulsory Purchase Orders, the start date for the scheme could have fallen back to 2015, he said.

“I am hugely encouraged by this step forward, which effectively means that the government is backing the upgrade. The lack of a dual carriageway link to the national trunk road system is holding back the economy of Thetford in particular and Norfolk in general,” said Mr Fraser.

The A11 dualling programme was expected to start next year, but was put back by EERA to beyond 2011 last year following a £778m government road infrastructure allocation for the East of England over the next ten years. Dr Ladyman has now written to EERA to advise officials of the background A11 work in advance of the region's review of transport priorities next year.

The seven mile stretch that runs through Elveden is the last remaining single carriageway part of the A11, making Norwich the only major city in the country not to be linked to London by a dual carriageway trunk road.

An estimated 160,000 vehicles pass through the overly congested and accident blackspot route every week, which business leaders say is stifling the local economy.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, who was involved in the A11 dualling campaign from the early 1980s, said he too was delighted with the new step forward, which will help address any public concerns as soon as possible.

The A11 borders two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which are regarded for their valuable forest and heathland habitats.

“I do not think many schemes go through without objections, but I would have thought the vast majority of people in Norfolk and Suffolk would realise that the dualling of the road is vital to the economy and will reduce congestion, reduce accidents, and reduce CO2 emissions,” said Mr Gunson.

Richard Spring, MP for South West Suffolk, who has been campaigning for the multi-million pound project for the last 12 years, added that he welcomed the government support, but he would only be cracking open the champagne once an official start date and budget commitment had been made.

Susan Glossop, Thetford town manager, said the scheme was vital to the town, particularly on the back of its new Growth Point Status, which will see the creation of 5,500 new homes and 6,000 jobs in the area over the next 15 years.