Boris Johnson: 'I'll get A47 dualled'
PUBLISHED: 21:45 26 November 2019 | UPDATED: 22:14 26 November 2019
Boris Johnson has pledged to finally get the A47 dualled and has compelled police in Norfolk and Waveney to use the controversial stop and search method to clampdown on drug gangs.
In an exclusive interview with this paper the prime minister said he was determined to finally make good on several former government's broken promise to stop the misery of drivers using the vital link road into Norfolk and Norwich.
He also urged police to use stop and search more widely on the region's streets in a bid to halt the rise in county lines gangs who have flooded Norfolk and Waveney with drugs in recent years.
The PM also pledged to get parity of esteem for mental health so it is treated with the same urgency as physical illness.
After visiting the International Aviation Academy, near Norwich Airport, the prime minister came to this newspaper's offices at Prospect House in Norwich to deliver his pitch for Number 10.
Asked why the A47 remained a problem when major infrastructure projects had been given the green light in other parts of the country the prime minister said he was aware of the torment facing road users.
Pressed on whether his government would spend money on improving the notorious road he said: "Yes. Look at what I said I would do as mayor of London and what we did - I over delivered on the key things.
"When I put my mind to something we will deliver. We want to have an infrastructure revolution in this country. This is the right moment - interest rates are low. It is not just big ticket items - it is also about basics like road connectivity and dualling the A47, shortening the rail times from Norwich to London, improving rural bus services ... I believe in these things absolutely passionately because they change people's lives. And they boost the economy.
"In the last 45 years we have relied on London and South East and we have failed to unleash the potential of the rest of the UK. That is one of the reasons people voted for Brexit."
On the scourge of drug gangs blighting the region Mr Johnson called for tougher sentencing but also said young people must be offered an alternative to a life of crime. He said police using the contentious stop and search method was actually "kind" and "loving".
"You need to come down very hard on the kingpins and give them some very tough sentences," Mr Johnson said. "But you also have to look at the phenomenon on the streets. Kids carrying knives - it is appalling.
"When I took over as London mayor we had a similar spate of violence and kids were dying of knife wounds. We dealt with it in two ways. First of all by recognising you had to engage with the kids. You can't just deal with it as law and order problem.
"You have to talk to them, find mentoring, apprenticeships and ways out of the gangs. Often their self esteem depends on these gangs. You have to give them an alternative.
"The second thing you need is a really robust law enforcement regime. It is essential. When we put 20,000 more police on our streets - and we will do more in time but that is what we are beginning with - you have give them the confidence to do something difficult like stop and search."
On the county's mental health crisis Mr Johnson agreed Norfolk and Suffolk's mental health trust needed cash to move out of special measures.
He added: "We have to recognise this is a crisis for this country. It is about funding public services properly - £47.9 million is going to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for an upgrade.
"But it is wider than that - it is about staffing, about having the nurses available to do it. And when it comes to mental health you have to have parity and we will go as fast as we can.
"We are putting the biggest ever cash boost into the NHS - £34 billion. We need to think about how society as a whole puts its arms around people with mental health problems. At the moment police and social services are at the forefront of dealing with these problems. What we need to do is start thinking about the people who are suffering. Working together with them to recognise the challenges they have."
The prime minister also backed Norwich North candidate Chloe Smith who is defending a slim majority. "We are fighting for every vote. Chloe has been a fantastic MP who has been instrumental in persuading me that the dualling of the A47 and 90 minutes train travel to London."