MP Steve Barclay fears he’s fighting lone battle over A47 upgrade through Fens - and queries official traffic flow predictions
PUBLISHED: 16:22 22 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:31 22 August 2014
Fenland might well consider itself once again snubbed as a campaign group for improvements to the A47 heard that the lion’s share of £504million from the Government will go to Norfolk.
Only a new roundabout on the A141/A47 Guyhirn – to be built at a cost of up to £16million- is included in Fenland.
Although dualling of the A1 to the Sutton stretch west of Peterborough is included (a complicated piece of engineering involving an extra bridge) most of the investment will be in Norfolk.
Representatives from councils across Norfolk and Suffolk and Cambridgeshire met in Norwich on Wednesday as part of the A47 Alliance Feasibility Study group but there was no-one from Fenland District Council in attendance.
A Fenland council spokesman said they knew nothing about the meeting, had never had any minutes and were not invited even though a meeting in May agreed Fenland Council should be invited in future. However a spokesman for the A47 Alliance insisted Fenland Council had been asked to attend.
Meanwhile North East Cambs MP Steve Barclay is demanding answers over the predicted cost of dualling the Guyhirn to Wisbech stretch of the busy through route, which appear to have risen from £61million to £160million-£320million.
He has accused the Highways Agency and Cambridgeshire County Council of manipulating figures to inflate the potential costs of dualling this busy length of the A47, which has the highest numbers of HGVs on the road, by comparing it to a scheme on the A1 to Sutton stretch which includes a footbridge.
Mr Barclay said he was shocked to learn the Highways Agency estimates have more than quadrupled the predicted cost of dualling the Fenland stretch and that it has also changed its mind on when the road is likely to hit 90 per cent capacity.
He raised the matter with Cambridgeshire County Council questioning why the Guyhirn to Wisbech stretch was not being prioritised earlier.
The MP also wants to know why neither the county council nor Fenland District Council are prepared to spend money from their reserves to undertake a feasibility study now, when the government has guaranteed funding will be coming in April to pay for it.
In a written response county council leader Steve Count explained the Highways Agency, which is leading on the A47 work, aims to prioritise improvements for areas likely to be under the greatest pressure, focussing on those that are already close to or will be over capacity first.
He admits Mr Barclay is right about the Wisbech to Guyhirn stretch having the highest traffic flows of the single carriageway sections “relatively speaking”, and that HGV traffic was highest on the Wisbech bypass according to surveys.
But Cllr Count said: “However, the high vehicle flows and numbers of HGVs do not necessarily reflect congestion or over capacity.”
The Highways Agency calculate the Guyhirn to Wisbech stretch will be at 90 per cent capacity by 2021 and over-capacity by 2026, but there are six other sections that will hit capacity before the Fenland stretch.
Mr Barclay has accused the county council and Highways Agency of “playing down the demand and playing up the costs.”
Previous costings by the A47 Alliance, published in its brochure, suggest the cost for the Fenland stretch would be around £61 million.
By using the A1 to Sutton scheme as a comparison, which is the shortest and most expensive stretch of dualling on the A47 that cost has now risen to £160million to £320million.
He said: “The costs of the A47 Wisbech to Guyhirn dualling seem to have been inflated by picking as a comparison the most expensive short stretch of the A47 going ahead, and one where the costs are increased because of an existing bridge that needs changing and where there are junction changes also.
“Highways Agency and Cambs County Council both must know there is no such existing bridge on the Wisbech A47 stretch. Any future bridge for the rail line is part of the rail costs at present, so either way they must know the cost comparison with the A1 to Sutton stretch is misleading, and they appear to be inflating the cost of the Wisbech scheme as a way of justifying inaction.”
Mr Barclay is also questioning both the council’s and Highways Agency figures regarding traffic volumes as they appear to be based on a 2011 traffic count, which is obviously out of date, but also show the Wisbech to Guyhirn section will be at 100 per cent capacity in 2021 and not 90 per cent as stated in Cllr Count’s letter.
Government funding will be available from April 2015 to pay for feasibility studies on the A47 and also the Wisbech to March rail-link and Mr Barclay is urging either the county council or Fenland District Council or both to pay for the work to be done now.
Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership is set to get around £72million of European Funding early next year and Mr Barclay believes the Fenland transport schemes should be ready to go when bidding for this cash starts so they don’t miss out on this windfall.