Cheaper A14 Cambs major improvements sill years away

EVEN if some progress can be made on modest upgrading of the A14 in Cambridgeshire, nothing of significance will happen for a decade.

The �1.2billion upgrade of 22 miles between Ellington in west Huntingdonshire and Fen Ditton, north-east of Cambridge, was originally due to have opened in 2010. Instead, the new Government chose that year finally to abandon it as part of the comprehensive spending review.

By that time, the heavily-delayed scheme, which included a new southern bypass for Huntingdon and Godmanchester, was been scheduled to be complete in 2015/16.

Now, “whatever happens, we shall have lost five or six years,” Cambridgeshire County Council’s director of growth and infrastructure, Graham Hughes, told The Hunts Post.

Transport Ministers are clearly more reluctant to abandon the congestion-busting project than the Chancellor. Roads Minister Mike Penning announced last year that a study would be set up to examine how similar objectives could be achieved at lower cost.

That study will start work shortly, and is expected to report in mid-2012, Mr Hughes said.

What could happen is that a number of low-cost local improvements, abandoned because there was inadequate payback time before the major (now abandoned) improvements were in place, could be reinstated.

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“The pressing need for major housing growth in the A14 corridor continues,” Mr Hughes said. “Major housing growth sites, including the north-west Cambridge site (the National Institute for Agricultural Botany and the University quarter), Northstowe and strategic sites in the Huntingdon and Godmanchester area, are dependent on the A14 to varying degrees, and all have been impacted by the withdrawal of the major scheme.”

The Highways Agency will block any proposed development that makes congestion on the A14 any worse – a doctrine for which the shorthand term has become ‘nil detriment’. In Huntingdonshire that includes 800 homes planned for Bearsrcoft in Godmanchester and, until the agency removed its objection last year, the 1,000 homes planned for Northbridge in Great Stukeley.

Mr Hughes said: “There are two pieces of work. One is looking at how we can identify what headroom if left to allow some development in the corridor and what minor measures could be put in place to allow more development. That will conclude within six months.

“We hope broadly to identify what might be done in north-west Cambridge and some development at Northstowe. It would be relatively minor investment, not big capital expenditure.

“The second follows Mike Penning’s letter about the study with the Department for Transport and a brief to find affordable and effective solutions to the problems that everybody acknowledges there are on the A14.

“The Government has obviously had a bit of a re-think and wants to be significantly involved in the study. It’s accepted that this is a national priority and that it needs sorting.”

The move away from devolving the work solely to Cambridgeshire is welcome for two reasons. First, it acknowledges that the A14 is part of a Trans-European network and a key component of the UK’s strategic road network. But secondly it is the DfT that will pick up the bill for whatever emerges, so its detailed involvement is encouraging. It will examine possible tolling (but not ‘shadow tolling’) and will include another look at the limited part rail might play in reducing A14 freight traffic – there is no meaningful rail alternative for passenger traffic in Cambridgeshire now that the busway is more or less finished.

“But it won’t have any funding before 2015,” Mr Hughes said.

What the study could suggest includes scaling down some of the proposals in the original scheme, such as removing the widening between Girton and Fen Ditton, scaling back on the complexity of the new Girton interchange, deleting some of the 10 lanes proposed between Girton and Bar Hill, and tightening the line at Fenstanton.

“We could end up with something costing �600 to �650m.