A14 toll would be an unfair tax on firms, claim critics - but what do you think?

The A14 is a key route for busineses across the region.

The A14 is a key route for busineses across the region. - Credit: Archant

Controversial plans for an A14 toll road would damage the Norfolk economy and be an 'unfair' tax on firms and road users, county council leader George Nobbs has claimed.

The government has put forward a £1.5bn plan to upgrade the heavily congested stretch of the A14 in Cambridgeshire including widening and improving existing junctions to the north and Cambridge and building a new Huntingdon bypass.

A Highways Agency consultation on the plans, which is set to end on Sunday, suggests that could see car drivers likely to pay between £1 and £1.50 and lorries paying between £2 and £3, up until 10pm when the road would be toll-free until 6am.

The plans have sparked a 'No Toll Tax' campaign in Suffolk backed by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Institute of Directors, and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

And, while businesses welcome the improvements, there are fears that a toll road could prove prohibitive for Norfolk firms too and place companies at an unfair disadvantage.

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George Nobbs, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'The A11 and A14 are both of crucial importance to the Norfolk economy as they are key routes that link us with the rest of the country. Norfolk has suffered for so many years with inadequate roads that it would be regrettable if, just at the time we are so close to getting the long-needed improvements to the A11 which we have fought so hard for, we could now face the prospect of an A14 toll.

'I stand side by side with colleagues in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire in supporting much- needed improvements to the A14. However I could not support anything that could damage the Norfolk economy including an A14 toll which would be an unfair tax on our region.'

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Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said the toll would have a 'discriminatory effect'.

'In these challenging economic times, improvements to infrastructure across East Anglia are vital for business growth and Government commitment to improving the A14 was welcomed,' she said. 'However, the government's proposal to partly fund the A14 improvement scheme through tolling will have a negative impact on business growth in our region. The toll will add additional costs to businesses from across the region, who use the A14 as their main route to access overseas markets – costs which are not faced by businesses elsewhere in the UK. This adverse impact will be seen by business from across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridge and we are therefore in full support of our colleagues in Suffolk, who have launched a 'No Toll Tax on Suffolk' campaign.'

Dominic Purslow, depot principal at Fakenham-based haulage firm Jack Richards and Son, said the road was a vital link for the region but any toll needed to be part of an overall national plan. 'It takes freight from the east coast up into the Midlands,' he said. 'We want to see the A14 improved, because it's a bottleneck and such a dangerous road.

'The problem for us is always about the profitability of our business. Hauliers will always avoid roads where they have to pay, when their costs are already stacked up against them

'Yes we need the A14 improved but we need to look at other issues as well, such as the longer trailer trial. If a haulage company could run fewer units more efficiently and make a better profit, they probably wouldn't be against that particular type of road pricing structure.

'But what's important is the road infrastructure across the UK and how it's going to be managed in the future.'

Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: 'We are pleased the Government is bringing forward the construction of the A14, which is a critically important road for Norfolk businesses to access Cambridge and the Midlands.

'However, we are firmly opposed to plans for a toll road which will penalise road users from Norfolk and Suffolk and place them at a competitive disadvantage. When tolling was mooted the Government stressed that motorists would have a choice – the current scheme does not give that choice. The prime minister has invited road users to let him know their views on the tolling proposals – we would urge businesses from Norfolk and Suffolk to make their views heard.'

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