'Disgrace' claim amid fears A47 improvements are in danger of delays
PUBLISHED: 17:04 12 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:57 13 October 2018
Concerns that progress to improve the A47 is in danger of falling behind prompted a Conservative councillor to launch a blistering attack on Highways England.
And Conservatve Stuart Clancy also branded his own party’s transport secretary Chris Grayling as “weak” for not holding the quango responsible for improving the road to account.
Mr Clancy’s remarks came as Norfolk County Council agreed its response to consultation over the dualling of a section of the A47 between North Burlingham and Blofield.
That is one of six sections of the A47 which will benefit from a £300m upgrade, pledged by then prime minister David Cameron in December 2014.
People living nearby were disappointed that a bridge which would connect North Burlingham to Lingwood was not being considered and councillors agreed to push for that to form part of the scheme.
But Mr Clancy, vice-chairman of the council’s environment, development committee, launched an angry broadside at Highways England.
He said: “We have got a commencement date of 2021, but I think there is a huge danger of slippage. It’s incumbent on this authority that we push Highways England and I think this committee needs to endorse this.
“This issue has been raised for at least three years and we are still no further forward. Highways England and the Environment Agency are two quangos and I cannot think of two worse quangos, with a weak secretary of state for transport not holding them to account.
“We need to push Highways England to get these matters resolved and ensure this proposal is got on with without further delay. It’s been such a bad example of a London-based quango not working in the best interests of Norfolk.
“We need to get our MPs to push them to get on with this work, because it’s an absolute public sector disgrace. They need to be held to account.”
And Tom McCabe, the council’s director of community and environmental services, said he was also worried about progress on another section of the road - the Thickthorn roundabout on the edge of Norwich.
He said: “The A47 work has been painfully slow since the announcement was made. I have severe concerns around the Thickthorn junction work, which seems to have fallen down a Highways England hole. We have to ensure they do not take their foot off the gas. We have real concerns.”
Highways England, which is based in Birmingham with regional offices, confirmed the Thickthorn consultation had been delayed.
A spokesman said: “The Thickthorn Junction statutory consultation that was planned for autumn 2018 has been deferred to 2019. “However, Highways England remains committed to deliver this scheme in line with the commitment and the delivery plan, with start of works scheduled for the financial year 2020-21.
“The statutory consultation for the Blofield to North Burlingham dualling is currently under way and will conclude on October 19. Start of works is scheduled for the financial year 2021-22.”
Guy Lewis. Highways England lead for the A47, said: “This new dual carriageway is one of six schemes we’ll be doing to upgrade the A47, and it’s important that we get it right for road users and the affected communities.”
The consultation is at highwaysengland.co.uk/projects/a47-blofield-to-north-burlingham
Just Dual It!
The concern over the current improvement scheme comes as Norfolk tries pressure on the government to commit to the full dualling of the A47 in the future.
The aim of the campaign, spearheaded by the Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce is to put pressure on the government to commit to further improvements.
Council leaders and business bosses say the road, which stretches from Peterborough to Lowestoft is crucial for Norfolk.
And the campaign argues that the £300m does not go far enough and that there is a need for full dualling,
Hundreds of people filled in postcards stating why the dualling of the road is so important, and sent them off to Norfolk County Council.
Just 47pc of the road is currently dualled.
The idea is that the postcards will be taken to Westminster to demonstrate the strength of feeling for the need for a fully dualled road.