Roads minister says he recognises need to improve A47 as MPs state case for upgrade during parliamentary debate
PUBLISHED: 15:33 15 May 2014
Upgrading the A47 would provide a catalyst for business, boost innovation and reduce congestion, an MP has claimed.
Speaking during yesterday’s parliamentary debate MP Steve Barclay highlighted that, despite Fenland being one of the country’s leading areas for the haulage business and in the midst of a housing boom, fewer than two miles are dualled.
He said: “I have sat through many Public Accounts Committee hearings in which transport schemes have been put forward that overestimated the benefits and underestimated the costs.
“We have a paradox here. We have a region that will deliver greater benefits than have traditionally been forecast, and the potential of the scheme has been undervalued throughout the 17 years.
“In the whole of Fenland fewer than two miles are dualled, yet Fenland is one of the country’s leading areas for the haulage business, which is linked to the food production of the fens.
“Haulage is a significant player within the Fenland economy, and yet the transport infrastructure does not reflect that.
“Adjacent to Fenland, Peterborough is one of our fastest growing cities. If one looks at the core strategy for Fenland, one sees that significant housing is planned for the area.
“At a time when some other parts of the country are resistant to delivering on the Government’s housing intentions, this is an area that can unlock the housing required, if the Government meet us halfway in delivering the necessary transport infrastructure.”
Roads minister Robert Goodwill said he recognised the economic case to improve the road and that the government was committed to identifying and funding a solution to its long-standing problems.
The A47 corridor was added to a list of five feasibility studies identified in last year’s budget last summer.
Mr Goodwill said: “The A47 is an important trunk road that connects Norfolk with the Midlands, and improving it has been considered by successive governments.
“I recognise the strategic importance of the corridor and therefore of finding solutions to its problems.”
While Mr Goodwill confirmed that there would be “some degree of success” for all six shortlisted projects, he was not clear how extensive the improvements would be.
But, when asked about the timetable of the feasibility study, the transport minister said: “I suggest that you make sure you get a place for the autumn statement, to hear what the chancellor says.”
Mr Barclay said there is a “lack of alternatives” to the A47, highlighting the disruption caused when a four mile stretch of road between Wisbech and Guyhirn was closed last year for road maintenance, with a 52 mile diversion set up in its place.
He said: “That was the Highways Agency’s official diversion. There was a considerable cost to business and motorists and also a safety issue.
“It took the heavy haulage traffic off the route, which is a route of European significance, and on to minor roads where motorists are not familiar with such traffic.”
Improved infrastructure was necessary so north Cambridgeshire can truly benefit from the Cambridge city deal and improved services from Cambridge airport, MP Barclay said.
He said: “The road has strategic significance to the region. The economic benefits that we can leverage are not only from the route itself, they combine with the city deal in Cambridge and the innovation in the south of the county, and with the significant growth potential of areas such as Peterborough.
“Frustration is felt in areas such as north Cambridgeshire, although the Government have made real progress with the Cambridge city deal and new transport improvements.
“Such services are attractive to international businesses considering north Cambridgeshire as an area, but they will be restricted if other parts of the transport network do not connect.
“That aspect is not always captured in the feasibility and benefits assessments under treasury rules.”
Upgrading the A47 will also provide a boost to bus users, Mr Barclay said.
He said: “The X1 runs along the route of the A47. It is unusual because it runs for more than four hours along the whole route.
“I have spoken to the bus company, and one of the things that has to be factored in is the significant delays in the timetable, because of the unpredictability of the transport on that route.
“If someone is setting a timetable, they need to build in capacity for delays on the route.
“The scheme benefits bus users in an area where public transport is particularly poor.”
North Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham also argued the case for an upgrade.
He said dualling was “very patchy” making it an inherently dangerous road.