FORMER Prime Minster Sir John Major is in no doubt that the A14 improvement scheme should be a priority despite Government debt. Sir John, who was in Huntingdon to launch a volunteer organisation on Friday (June 19), said the A14 is a big problem and I

FORMER Prime Minster Sir John Major is in no doubt that the A14 improvement scheme should be a priority despite Government debt.

Sir John, who was in Huntingdon to launch a volunteer organisation on Friday (June 19), said the A14 "is a big problem and I hope it will receive priority".

He added: "It is in need of improvement: there is no conceivable doubt about that. It is important and needs improving even if the Government is short of money."

Last week The Hunts Post revealed how the desperately-needed A14 improvement scheme had run into further delays.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce fears the £944million project could fall victim to recession-led Government debt.

He said: "Any incoming Government, faced with debts of £180billion, is going to clear the decks of uncommitted spending.

"That's a real fear, when you've got a £1.2billion scheme [the predicted outturn cost including inflation] on your desk."

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.

But one of Sir John's former Ministers of State, Sir David Trippier, believes Mr Bridge is being too pessimistic. Sir David, who is now chairman of Cambridgeshire Horizons, the not-for-profit company set up to deliver £4billion of infrastructure for an expanding county, said Ministers in an incoming Conservative administration "just wouldn't dare" shelve the scheme.

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."

Construction was due to start in 2010 but it is now expected to start 2010-2011.

Mr Bridge said: "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.