Cambs: council urges Whitehall to find affordable A14 bypass option

UPGRADING the A14 and building a new bypass for Huntingdon and Godmanchester remain vital to the future prosperity of Huntingdon, the district council said this week.

HDC promised to take an active part in discussions to find an affordable alternative to the abandoned �1.2billion Highways Agency scheme to make 22 miles of the road between Ellington in west Huntingdonshire and Fen Ditton, north-east of Cambridge, into a six-lane trans-European highway.

In spite of the Treasury’s decision to abandon the HA scheme as a cost-cutting measure, it is “madness” to have an international highway running through the heart of a mediaeval English market town, HDC’s joint managing director Malcolm Sharp told The Hunts Post on Monday.

The council has pledged to work with the Government, Cambridgeshire County Council and other local authorities to find a cheaper way to relieve the A14’s congestion problems.

But Mr Sharp stressed that a new bypass, the demolition of the A14 bypass in Huntingdon and integration of the superseded network of trunk roads into the local highway system were all non-negotiable components of the future prosperity of the town.

Abandoning the previous scheme took the amount of money available for solving Huntingdonshire’s trunk road congestion problems from �1.2bn to zero at a stroke of the Chancellor’s pen.

So, whatever alternative the Government’s latest study comes up with when it reports in a year’s time, there is still no cash available to implement it, however ‘affordable’ any new plans are, until after the next comprehensive spending review in 2014. Even then, it would take years for any improvement to be delivered – the previous scheme took seven years just to reach the public inquiry stage at which it was aborted.

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Ever since the CHUMMS (Cambridge-Huntingdon Multi-Modal Study) – which reported almost exactly 10 years ago and gave us the previous scheme and the guided busway – HDC has regarded incorporating the Huntingdon elements of the existing A14 into the local road network as crucial to the economic prosperity of an expanding Huntingdon town centre.

There is still some hope that that can be delivered, however late in the day.

The county council input is being co-ordinated by recently-recruited former Cambridgeshire Horizons chief executive Alex Plant, who has a strong track record in helping to deliver infrastructure investment, and transport ministers are believed to understand the problems created by abandoning the previous project.

Various rail-based alternatives have been mooted, but wagonload railfreight ceased to be economically viable decades ago.

“For the sake of the economy and environment of Huntingdonshire, we are still going to need a road solution,” Mr Sharp said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, so we are not looking to be part of a prolonged study as an excuse for inaction.

“But people who know about these things say a scheme that’s more affordable can be brought forward.

“We believe in investing in success – and this area is successful. But, if we are not careful, the A14 will be a drag on our expectations.”

HDC added: “The council is supportive of sustainable economic growth. The population of the area is increasing, as is the number of houses needed to house the existing population.

“The council has fulfilled its duty to plan properly for that growth, not only for housing but also for employment growth, desperately needed as our contribution to improving the UK economy.

“It is for this reason that the council has been pleased to co-sponsor the establishment of an Enterprise Zone on part of the site of the former Alconbury Airfield. Growth, however, requires associated infrastructure, and failure to deal urgently with the A14 could seriously prejudice this economic growth over the medium to long term.

“It is our belief that the Government must give the highest priority to working constructively with all relevant parties to bring forward a new affordable A14 scheme at the earliest opportunity.”