CAMPAIGNERS for the £1.2billion improvement of the A14 through Huntingdonshire have not given up – in spite of a strong hint from Roads Minister Mike Penning that the scheme will be officially axed next Wednesday.
CAMPAIGNERS for the £1.2billion improvement of the A14 through Huntingdonshire have not given up - in spite of a strong hint from Roads Minister Mike Penning that the scheme will be officially axed next Wednesday.
According to Motor Transport magazine's editor Justin Stanton, the Minister let the cat out of the bag at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference, organised by the Freight Transport Association.
"Take the A14," he is quoted as saying, "I can't find the money to improve that but, if the private sector wants to build a new road and toll it, [the great]."
The comment has stung John Bridge, former haulage company boss who is now chief executive of the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and a leading campaigner for the road improvements, into writing to Transport Ministers to remind them in the strongest terms to regard the scheme as a major economic investment, not an unnecessary cost.
In addition to the economic payback explained by the East of England Development Agency to Ministers in July, there were other crucial reasons for the project to go ahead without delay.
"This is a vital route of international significance and importance, which also impacts nationally, regionally and locally," he said. "Currently the capacity of the road is not fit for purpose, with the volumes of traffic far exceeding its capability on a daily basis which is creating totally unacceptable problems.
"The viaduct at Huntingdon is monitored 24 hours per day due to its precarious nature, and many millions of pounds have already been spent keeping it in service, as well as requiring tens of millions of pounds additionally spent needlessly to keep it operating.
"It has a limited lifetime and if the road is not upgraded in a timely fashion, it has the potential for becoming a catastrophe."
Mr Bridge said the positive future economic performance of the area was dependent on being able to deal with the housing shortage to provide homes for workers to fill the planned new jobs. Key new housing sites depend on the A14 being upgraded, he told the Ministers.
"If we are to succeed in the international market place for future investment, we must ensure our infrastructure is capable of competing with our international competitors," he explained to the Minister, a former army officer.
He added: "As a businessman who has to travel from home to the office along this complete stretch, I have full personal knowledge of the unacceptable problems, accidents and delays frequently occurring.
"In the last six working days, the road has caused major problems on five of those days and I, along with many others, find the increasing difficulties totally unacceptable.
"Although we accept the current very challenging circumstances we are in, we believe there are compelling reasons why you should immediately reinstate the public inquiry into this road upgrade and ensure it stays as a live project to be funded and implemented without any further delay.
"The absolute requirement for upgrading the A14 is fully supported by an extensive range of organisations as well as all the local Conservative MPs."
Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly said last night: "If the Government does say the road is unaffordable, we would want to promote it through other means. A pay-as-you-go road is better than no road."
The Government is expected to make the future of the scheme clear in next Wednesday's comprehensive spending review announcement.