THE future of the A14 in Huntingdonshire could turn out to be an early test of the Westminster marriage between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Campaigners want July s public inquiry into £1.2billion plans to upgrade and widen 22 miles of the road be

THE future of the A14 in Huntingdonshire could turn out to be an early test of the Westminster marriage between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Campaigners want July's public inquiry into £1.2billion plans to upgrade and widen 22 miles of the road between Ellington and Fen Ditton scrapped or at least postponed while a new study into traffic patterns in the corridor is carried out.

However, Tory MPs for the area, Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire and South Cambridgeshire District Councils are urging new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond to press ahead with the scheme as soon as possible.

The dilemma for the Government is to decide between the Liberal Democrats' policy of bringing strategic road-building to an abrupt halt as well as the fact that £1.2bn could make a significant contribution to the £6bn of urgent public expenditure costs; and the bitter opposition to shelving the scheme from MPs, councils, local and regional business leaders and the majority of the Huntingdonshire public.

The scheme's benefit to cost ratio has reduced significantly since the Cambridge-Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study's findings were published in 2001, says pressure group the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT, formerly Transport 2000).

The world has moved on since 2001 and a new study should be undertaken, campaigner Richard George told The Hunts Post.

"The A14 as proposed is the wrong choice. It will draw an increasing volume of traffic.

"The need to do something has not changed," he conceded. "But, if the study were done again, it would probably find a need for junction modifications, some minor road-building, the guided bus and freight improvements."

CBT disputes the Highways Agency's claim that the £300m upgrade of the 150-mile railfreight route between Felixstowe on the Suffolk coast and Nuneaton in Warwickshire would take only two per cent of heavy lorries off the A14 through Cambridgeshire. The campaigners believe the A14 money should be invested instead in lorry-carrying trains.

In a letter to Mr Hammond last week, CBT executive director Stephen Joseph wrote: "One example where cuts can be made quickly is the proposal for the A14 in Cambridgeshire, which is expected to cost £1.3bn for 21 miles and where government objectives could be met more easily and cheaply through other means.

"We recommend that the public inquiry due over the summer is postponed and a multi-modal study looking at more affordable options is considered."

Business leaders argue that the A14 is still a good investment on any sensible criteria and essential to the future prosperity of Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire and the wider Eastern and West Midlands regions.

Council leaders said last week that the proposed improvements are also vital to reduce accidents.

Councillor Ian Bates, leader of HDC, said: "This is not the time for half-hearted measures. Road safety, the national and local economy and the environment need to be at the forefront of our thinking."

The county and two district councils say the area is planning for the largest level of growth in the country (including Northstowe) and transport infrastructure is a key part of these plans.

The councils also argue that the problems of exhaust emissions, which particularly affect Huntingdon town centre and parts of Brampton and Fenstanton, will get worse if the road is not built.