THE proposed £944million improvement scheme for the A14 could fall victim to recession-led Government debt, business leaders fear. With Draft Orders, setting out the precise alignment of the 22-mile section between Ellington and Fen Drayton, delayed until

THE proposed £944million improvement scheme for the A14 could fall victim to recession-led Government debt, business leaders fear.

With Draft Orders, setting out the precise alignment of the 22-mile section between Ellington and Fen Drayton, delayed until September, and a public inquiry almost certain, a decision to press ahead with the scheme is unlikely before a General Election next spring at the latest.

"Any incoming Government, faced with debts of £180billion, is going to clear the decks of uncommitted spending," John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, told The Hunts Post. "That's a real fear, when you've got a £1.2billion scheme [the predicted outturn cost including inflation] on your desk."

Although the draft orders have been delayed while new work is done on traffic predictions, that will not delay the start of work on the road, Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told Huntingdon's MP Jonathan Djanogly.

But in a letter to Mr Bridge last month, the Secretary of State (then Minister of State) wrote: "The need for the scheme is recognised, and current evidence is that the preferred route that is being taken forward will provide good value for money."

What worries Mr Bridge is that Lord Adonis continued: "Funding is provided on a phase by phase basis, so it is only when construction work is ready to start that funds are finally committed.

"Projects can drop out of the programme at any point up to the commitment of funds if they fail value for money, affordability or other criteria."

Accurate traffic predictions are an essential element in the preparation of the Environmental Statement for the scheme. They assess the impact on the environment of both the road improvement and the traffic predicted to use it, and will be published with the draft orders.

With a public inquiry expected to take place later this year or early next year, the Highways Agency will not want objectors to be able to argue that its traffic predictions have become out of date as a result of the recession.

Draft orders have already been published for the section to be widened between Fen Drayton and Fen Ditton, north-east of Cambridge.

Mr Bridge said this week: "Travelling along the A14 between Ellington and Fen Ditton is, at best, unpredictable, and, at worst, downright miserable. The Highways Agency should be making the improvements a priority, not allowing the scheme to fall behind schedule before work has even really begun.

"The planned improvements will not just benefit the local economy but will have a significant impact on the quality of life of all users of the A14. Those users are being failed locally, regionally and now nationally," he added.

"Even once the draft orders are eventually published it is more than likely that there will be a public inquiry, and it is only once this has been concluded that the Government will be in a position to give the scheme - and crucially the necessary funding - the final go ahead.