Annabelle Dickson and Paul Geater
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Transport ministers insist a toll is the only way of affording a rebuilt A14 in Cambridgeshire – but Suffolk’s MPs believe they have new hopes of keeping the road free after meeting Prime Minister David Cameron.
New roads minister Robert Goodwill said there would be no £1.5billion upgrade without a toll – the project had only become viable because 20 per cent of the cost would be met by charging drivers.
His comments, in an exclusive interview with the East Anglian Daily Times, come just weeks after a consultation into the road scheme closed.
But six Suffolk MPs who met the Prime Minister earlier this week believed that he took their concerns to heart.
They described the meeting as “constructive” and felt he now has a better understanding of Suffolk’s worries – they believe he will raise their concerns in his own meetings with transport ministers.
Mr Goodwill said 20% of the £1.5bn scheme was to be financed through tolls and because of that the scheme had become viable.
“At the time the project was signed off, the only way it could be delivered was by having tolls, which would bring in £25million a year that would be around about £1 or £1.50 for cars and double for lorries.
“Given the congestion on that road I think road users would rather pay a toll to get where they are going, than get stuck in congestion on that part of the A14.”
But there is major opposition to the plans in the region from businesses who claim plans to charge tolls to help fund an upgrade of the A14 had been “badly conceived and poorly executed”.
The No Toll Tax on Suffolk campaign, launched by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, claims that, with no proper cost-benefit analysis having been carried out, there is no reliable case for introducing the charges.
Business support continues to grow for the No Toll Tax on Suffolk campaign.” said John Dugmore, the Chamber’s CEO. “Over the last three years Government has invested in road upgrades, such as the A11, without implementing tolls to fund them.
“Therefore it is unclear why Government wants to introduce an extra tax on businesses in our county that will have a detrimental effect on our economy.
“A strong and robust case singling out Suffolk for a toll tax has not been made by Government and firms will continue to oppose these plans.”
The Government’s proposals include improvements to the Cambridge section of the A14, which would remain toll-free, and the construction of a new section of road south of Huntingdon which would be the subject of tolls between 6am and 10pm.
Part of the existing elevated section of the A14 in Huntingdon would be demolished, with weight restrictions on the town’s remodelled road network leaving lorry drivers with the choice of paying the toll or taking a lengthy diversion.
Concerns have been raised that events were not held in the wider region, despite many businesses and haulier companies being affected by the proposed measures.
According to the Highways Agency, more than 800 people responded to the online questionnaire and a consultation report summarising what was said will be published later this year, with plans for the preferred route also set to be confirmed.
Mr Goodwill said: “I don’t think I’ve had any members of parliament in that neck of the woods lobbying me to have tolls.
“We would not be getting a road were it not for the toll.”
“I am aware of the issues and I am being lobbied and have listened to what is being said to me, and I certainly will consider all the points that have been made to me.”
But he said later: “I have seen the line on the map and the way the scheme is going to be delivered is now decided. The £25m a year that is capitalised up is equivalent to £300m and it is more than a fifth of the project.
“We have a difficult situation in the public finances. People are pleased they are going to get a road, and disappointed the are going to pay a toll.”