A14 - Huntingdon viaduct must come down

HUNTINGDON MP Jonathan Djanogly said Ministers were estimating the cost of the optimal scheme to be similar to that of the one discarded in 2010 on the grounds that it was too expensive.

“They are saying that whatever scheme is chosen will probably involve tolling, although they don’t think tolling in itself will provide all the money,” he told The Hunts Post. “It will be a mixture of tolling, Section 106 money [developer contributions] and national Government funding.

“Concerns I have had include HGVs going through local villages, but I have been assured that whatever plan is proposed that will not be allowed to happen and will be dealt with by means of weight restrictions. My other concern was that local people have a free access option, and that would be the case.

“In terms of timing, [Roads Minister] Mike Penning would like to see a preferred scheme by the end of this summer.”

Mr Djanogly said that Ministers who met MPs last week seemed sincere in their determination to press ahead quickly “but the fact of the matter is I have been here before many times over the past decade.”

Nonetheless, he added: “This is good news – it is more than on their radar screens. The Treasury is keen to go ahead, not least because of the enterprise zone and the development and growth agenda.

“I think it’s very positive. Obviously we are not there yet. They have had significant interest from serious road builders. There is clearly a mood in Government to move things forward.”

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North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara, whose constituency includes the A14 west of Huntingdon, told The Hunts Post: “It’s really good news that the A14 is being seriously considered by the minister. This is encouraging and I, along with other local MPs, will continue to keep up the pressure so that this matter is seen through.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the finalised proposals materialising so that we can all benefit.”

He added: “It’s clear that some tolling may be necessary, but it needs to be tolling so that those who wish to pay can do so, while others can continue to use the existing system.”

But Huntingdonshire District Council’s deputy leader remained concerned that the Government might compromise on the decision over the cost of the scheme.

Councillor Nick Guyatt, whose cabinet portfolio includes strategic planning and transport, told The Hunts Post: “The thought of keeping the viaduct is terrifying, and the Department for Transport is well aware of our view about that.

“What we need is a simpler A14, built over a period of time. It’s going to be a longer-term plan than we would have wanted and, if it includes an element of tolling, that’s a price we shall have to pay.” But collecting tolls need not be disruptive to traffic, he insisted. “There’s no point in toll booths that create hold-ups.”

But Cllr Guyatt, a former corporate finance expert in the City, said the Government had been left in no doubt that the price the Government must pay for the area’s acting as an engine of economic growth was “finding and financing a sensible solution for the A14.”

His transport counterpart on Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Ian Bates, said the Government’s announcement was an acknowledgment of the strategic importance of the A14 not only to Cambridgeshire, but to neighbouring Suffolk and Northamptonshire.

“It’s also a European highway, and the stretch between Cambridge and Huntingdon is important. We have to do something about the viaduct.”

He said he could understand why the coalition drew back from the scheme in October 2010, but he believed Ministers now understood the strategic and international importance of the A14, giving him greater optimism than he had felt 18 months ago.

“In the circumstances, it’s good that we have got as far as this so quickly. That’s because the county council has been pressing for it. We have been working with the department [for Transport] to push to get it moving, and the Treasury understands the benefits to the country.”

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s leader, Cllr Ray Manning, said progress on the scheme was long overdue, because of the need to deal with rapid growth in the county and with the viaduct in Huntingdon.

“Which option is best is for discussion, as long as we get started on it as soon as possible. It has to be affordable, but we need to get on with it. It desperately needs doing. We are not just at the 11th hour – it’s 11.59.”

But long-term campaigner John Bridge, who was a member of the original multi-modal corridor study, which originally published its report more than a decade ago, insisted that compromise could not be tolerated – the viaduct must come down.

“If we are really going to face the A14 challenge, this has to be a long-term solution, not tinkering with the effects as they arise.

“It would be wrong to consider an option that purely widens part of the dual carriageway to facilitate house-building at Northstowe – that would cause problems, not solve them.

“We can’t have another short-term political solution. We really need to understand the economics, so that we can develop and grow in the way that this area can, and facilitate the enterprise zone at Alconbury,” added Mr Bridge, who is chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce.

“If we don’t think strategically now, it will only exacerbate the problem.”

But Sian Berry, Campaign for Better Transport’s sustainable transport campaigner, said: “This study has proved that tolling to pay for a massive new road isn’t the magic solution for congestion on the A14. Even the best estimate of how much it would raise would leave a half-billion pound hole for local taxpayers to fund.

“Given this, it’s time that the Government ruled out the option of a six-lane dual carriageway through the Cambridgeshire countryside once and for all, rather than leaving it in the mix.”

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