March 10 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Only one in eight responses to the government’s public consultation on improvements to the A14 link between Suffolk and the midlands backed a toll option, it has been revealed.
However the government’s decision to drop the toll proposal in December has delayed the publication of a preferred route for the new road by the Highways’ Agency.
The survey – conducted before the toll proposal was dropped – showed that the majority of respondents did not want the road built at all if a toll would be charged.
The survey was carried out in September and October last year, at the time when business organisations, local authorities and Suffolk MPs were campaigning hard against the proposed toll on the Huntingdon southern by-pass.
That pressure paid off when Chancellor George Osborne announced in his autumn statement that the toll proposal would be dropped.
However this has meant that the Agency has had to amend its plans, and its preferred route which was due to be published last year will now come out in “early 2014”
When an Agency spokeswoman was told we were in early 2014, she said: “There’s quite a bit of early 2014 still to go!”
Only about 12% of people surveyed were in favour of the toll – and this affected the overall acceptance of the scheme.
Only a third of replies wanted the road built at all if part of it was to be tolled.
John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce which was at the forefront of the campaign against the proposed toll, said: “The official report from the Highways Agency reinforces what thousands of people and hundreds of businesses across Suffolk said clearly and with one voice during the No Toll Tax on Suffolk campaign.
“The overwhelming majority of those taking part in the consultation exercise spoke clearly, coherently and consistently against the proposals which would have been a tax on business, on the economy and on Suffolk.”
He added: “It is now important that the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport move forward and ensure that timetables are kept too for improvements to the A14 to go ahead.
“There must not be delay as hard working businesses from across the county and the East of England rely the A14 every day. We need spades in the ground at the earliest date.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said the survey findings, and the decision of the government to scrap the toll showed that ministers had listened to public opinion.
He said: “We made the case and the government took note of that. I’d always said this is a listening government and when the argument was forcefully made to them they took the right decision.”
Work on the road is scheduled to start at the end of 2016, but Mr Gummer did not think the delay in publishing a preferred option would be significant.
“This government has a good record on delivering major projects on time and on budget. The fact is that if there isn’t any tolling infrastructure to be built in, that should speed things along. I’m sure work will be able to get on as scheduled.”