Business ‘sidelined on Cambs A14 future’

THE GOVERNMENT seems determined to wreck a key component of economic recovery by kicking the shelved A14 improvement scheme in Huntingdonshire into the long grass, business leaders say.

Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce are furious that a study promised by Whitehall last October to look for a cost-effective alternative will not only waste time on irrelevancies such as rail and public transport options but will completely sideline commercial interests.

With greater Cambridge identified as one of the growth engines of national recovery – the golden triangle of the knowledge-based economy is formed by London, Cambridge and Oxford – the Prime Minister and Chancellor are both failing to understand the importance of infrastructure investment, said chief executive John Bridge.

And it will be at least 15 years before anything is done, by which time it will be far too late for the economic prosperity of the area, he added. The A428 dualling

The group being set up by the Department for Transport to study the A14 alternative will consist of civil servants, councillors and representatives of the embryonic and cash-strapped local enterprise partnerships on which councils are heavily represented.

“It’s quite clear that they don’t want to include people who were concerned with the original scheme,” Mr Bridge said.

“They want to exclude us from the discussions, so it doesn’t have the credibility that it should have – it’s become a lot of bureaucratic nonsense.”

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This view will put the business community at loggerheads with the area’s local government, which yesterday warmly welcomed the Department for Transport’s study.

A �1.2billion scheme to widen the road between Fen Drayton and Fen Ditton and build a new southern bypass for Huntingdon and Godmanchester between Ellington and Fen Drayton was abandoned last October when the Government grabbed back the earmarked cash to save money.

The new study will include rail and other public transport alternatives in the quest for “a credible and affordable alternative to the previous A14 scheme,” according to a statement today from a ‘campaign group’ of councils including Cambridgeshire, South Cambs and Huntingdonshire.

“The campaign group has now received a positive response from [Roads Minister] Mike Penning, who has taken them up on their offer to help Government find a solution that will keep local communities at the heart.

“In Mike Penning’s response he said the Government welcomed joint working and pledged to make Department for Transport resources available to lead the study.

“As well as looking at road-based solutions, the Department for Transport has said it will also look at the potential for rail, other public transport and demand management approaches to help alleviate problems on the A14 – particularly in the vicinity of the previous scheme.”

Mr Bridge said the kind of interventions the study will look at will do nothing to address the serious economic problems that result from congestion on the A14 – “a major problem that causes chaos over a wide area”.

The 15 years of inaction that will result will have severe adverse consequences for the economy, he predicted.

“Northstowe and north-west Cambridge developments will not go ahead, meaning we cannot provide housing and facilities for the talent Cambridge needs to attract. So they’ll go somewhere else abroad and compete with us.”

And the A428 dualling between Caxton and Black Cat faces a comparable delay, jeopardising the proposed 4,000-home eco-quarter east of St Neots, in which Oxford University is heavily involved.

Mr Bridge is furious that the �1billion wasted, according to a recent Select Committee report, on widening the M25 would have paid for the A14 upgrade – which, according to the original plan, should have opened last year.

“If we are going to have an economic growth agenda, as the Prime Minister and Chancellor keep talking about, they have to remove the biggest barriers to growth. We need to get UK plc back on track.

“They don’t understand the significance of this. It will come back to bite them.

“We are looking at 15 years before anything gets done, by which time it will have had quite severe negative economic consequences, never mind the trauma they put people through weekly.