Norfolk’s A47 ‘ideally placed’ for government cash, says transport minister

Transport minister Stephen Hammond.

Transport minister Stephen Hammond. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2013

A government minister has claimed Norfolk's A47 is 'ideally placed' to secure much-needed funding - despite sending a letter to a Norfolk MP which appeared to rule out a string of improvements on the road.

And transport minister Stephen Hammond has revealed he will head to the county later this year to discuss possible improvements to the road, where eight people have died since Christmas Eve.

And, even though he seemed to rule out a string of specific improvements to the A47 in a letter to a Norfolk MP, Mr Hammond has said he recognises its importance and hinted cash could be on its way.

East Anglian political and business leaders last year launched the Gateway to Growth campaign to secure A47 upgrades, which they say could generate nearly 10,000 jobs, add £390m to the region's economy and attract £800m of private investment.

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, wrote to Mr Hammond in February to make the case for investment in the road, but a letter he got back, contained more negative messages from the government.

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While Mr Hammond said the A47 would be included in a future programme, he ruled out improvements at King's Lynn, between Dereham and Norwich, at Wisbech, at Colney, on the Acle Straight and at Beacon Park and Bridge Road in Great Yarmouth.

But Mr Hammond told the EDP last night: 'Continued investment in projects which help national and regional growth are a top priority for the coalition government, which is why we are spending £1.8bn on local authority major schemes.

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'I recognise the importance the A47 has on the regional economy as a strategic corridor, and it is ideally placed for government funding. I look forward to discussing the scheme in detail at my next visit to the region.'

Following a budget announcement that extra cash will be available for road infrastructure from 2015, generated from cuts to government departmental spending, Mr Freeman said he hoped any possible visit would help convince him the A47 was deserving of cash.

He said the letter Mr Hammond was responding to focused on specific pinch points along the route, while two he had subsequently sent, which have yet to be officially replied to, explained the growing public concern about the A47 given recent deaths on the roads.

He revealed that Mr Hammond is due to visit Norfolk once the parliamentary recess ends on April 15.

Mr Freeman said: 'The county council put together that briefing for me on those pinch points. Government departments are always quite defensive and they have an incredible range of pressures to meet with budgets. We were trying to get our list added onto the government list already written.

'It was a long shot. But I think it's helpful in making the case given this road needs looking at. It's all part of piling on the pressure.

'The more you ask the better your chances really. I think getting him [Hammond] up is the key. I think there's nothing like seeing it for yourself and the process of being shown it by us and acknowledging what he sees.

'I am very pleased that he has agreed to come and that's in response to very considerable public concern over the road, which I drew to his attention.

'I pay tribute to the EDP here. The quality of the coverage and the dossier of stories and headlines were clearly pretty powerful.

'I am delighted he is coming and it gives all of us along the road a chance to make sure he has seen what we all know.'

Questions have been raised about whether pouring money into A47 projects will improve safety to such an extent that it will result in a decline in the number of deaths in crashes.

Mr Freeman acknowledged that the way people drive, rather than road itself, contributed to crashes. But he added: 'I think it's important we recognise road design, junctions, traffic volumes, safety and the Department for Transport and Highways Agency recognise that and I think it's appropriate we highlight this road as a clogged-up artery of the Norfolk economy.

'And every time there's one of those accidents, it's bad for the economy as well as tragic for the people involved.

'I hope the campaign will also highlight to people to take care on it and drive appropriately but ultimately I hope it doesn't take as long as the A11.

'Road schemes take some time. It's important all of us work together to make sure Norfolk doesn't miss out as it has in the past on infrastructure and investment.'

Mike Jackson, director of environment, transport and development at Norfolk County Council, told a meeting last month: 'We do need to make sure the road casualty reduction benefits of improving the A47 are understood in government, just as the economic benefits are.'

It is expected the MPs, county council, A47 Alliance will continue to discuss how they approach asking for improvements as they seek the best way to gain a commitment from the government.

And Mr Freeman said: 'The next step is get the minister up and leave him in no doubt to the seriousness of the problem and explore options for resolving it.'

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