CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for the new A14 have called for the summer public inquiry into the scheme to be suspended and the entire project scrapped, claiming the country simply cannot afford to pay for it. The public inquiry into the £1.2billion improvem

CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for the new A14 have called for the summer public inquiry into the scheme to be suspended and the entire project scrapped, claiming the country simply cannot afford to pay for it.

The public inquiry into the £1.2billion improvements is due to start in St Ives in July.

Protesters from Brampton, the Offords and Hilton, who have combined to form the A14 Joint Action Group, say the new road is unaffordable, so the Highways Agency could save more than £1million by abandoning the public inquiry.

But supporters of the scheme, including businesses across the county and Huntingdon's MP, say the scheme is vital and must go ahead as soon as possible in the interests of the local and regional economy.

The action group, formed a year ago to co-ordinate objections to the route, which includes a new six-lane southern bypass for Huntingdon and Godmanchester, has called on the Transport Secretary to suspend the inquiry.

Group chairman Nita Tinn said: "We believe it is an inappropriate use of public funds to go ahead with this inquiry when it is unlikely that a project of this scale will ever attract Government funding at this time.

"This road would take up most of the Government's transport budget, if built, leaving nothing for smaller, more cost-effective and possibly more urgently-needed schemes around the country.

"Both Labour and Liberal Democrats are on record as favouring rail over road for future transport developments, and the Conservatives are also committed to re-examining the need for schemes."

She said group members felt it unreasonable to be put to the cost of engaging lawyers and witnesses to fight the proposals and have requested the Secretary of State to adjourn the inquiry and examine alternative, cheaper proposals.

Mrs Tinn said the Highways Agency, having missed countless earlier deadlines, was determined to meet those it had set itself for delivering the final phases of the scheme.

"[The new Government has] got to re-examine the budget. It's not ring-fenced and it must be in the firing-line. It goes against Government policy and disregards at least four of the five objectives."

A spokesman for the Department for Transport confirmed on Tuesday that it would be open to an incoming administration to take a different view of policy. But until then, the Highways Agency was continuing to work towards the public inquiry dates announced before the General Election was called.

Huntingdon's MP, Jonathan Djanogly urged the Highways Agency to press ahead.

"The group has every right to represent their interests, and I would encourage them to put their views to the inquiry - which I want pursued with all vigour, so that we can get the road built as soon as possible."

Business leader John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce and a strong supporter of the new road, accused the campaigners of living in a different world from the majority of the Huntingdonshire population and others in the East of England.

"The road has to be upgraded. This is about the economy and vibrancy of Huntingdonshire. We need to get the public inquiry over as soon as possible, because we desperately need the upgrading of the road, even though there is going to be difficulty with public spending."

Mr Bridge said all three local MPs - Mr Djanogly, Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire, and Andrew Lansley, who represents South Cambridgeshire, strongly backed the scheme. "They understand the significance and necessity, and they have given an assurance that they will be pressing very hard for it. We have to ensure that the majority voice is heard over the minority.

"But I still have grave concerns over the availability of funding.