A14 vote was close call

‘Scrapping the A14 Improvements – is the East of England being short changed?’ was the topic of the annual ICE East of England debate.

Speaking for the motion on Thursday was councillor Mac McGuire, deputy lLeader of Cambridgeshire county council in charge of highways and access, David Burch, policy officer for the East of England Federation of Small Businesses spoke in favour.

Challenging the concept was Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport and Cambridgeshire county councillor Nichola Harrison who last year left the Liberal Democrats to become an Independent and leads the Our Transport Future Project.

At the debate was held at the George Hotel, in Huntingdon,

Councillor McGuire said the cancelled improvements would hinder growth when set against the 58,000 new homes the county was required to provide by 2021. With 90,000 vehicles a day using the section between Girton and Bar Hill, nearly a quarter of them heavy goods vehicles it is clear something must be done. Although the Highways Agency had been working up measures for 20 years no solutions are in sight.

David Burch pointed out the cost to business of the jams and gridlocks and said “I question whether the decision to cancel the scheme is understood by the people taking it.” He went on to say that 27% of FSB members experienced delays on one occasion, 21% on three or four occasions and 26% on more than four occasions. To grins and surprise he also pointed out the nearest motorway to Suffolk and Norfolk is in Holland.

There was some agreement on both sides mainly that something has to be done. Councillor Harrison who caused “some uproar” earlier this year when she proposed a ‘pay as you drive’ scheme for the county said even the Highways Agency now accepts the old fashioned dinosaur scheme was bloated and inappropriate. She called for a more holistic approach taking in public transport and cycle routes. “It’s no good “putting all our eggs into the A14 basket”.

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Her view was far from being short changed the region had a lucky escape.

Stephen Joseph explained that other schemes have proved that journey times do not improve, “people still get to work but more slowly”. He said toll roads like the M6 which have been suggested as a way forward are in fact “a blind alley”. Drivers unwilling to pay the toll have over filled the old M6 and the toll road had never made any money. He said we need to look at the types of journeys made and that road use for business had fallen during the recession whilst rail has increased.

Following questions and answers the audience was asked to vote with the result 15 for and 13 against the motion.

The debate was chaired by ICE East of England regional director Glen Owen. Glen said “it was surprising that there had been so much common ground between them – they all agreed that something needed to be done to improve the A14.”