Business may have to pay for A12 work

ESSEX businesses could help fund improvements to the A12 through extra business rates, a public inquiry into the road's future has heard.

Elliot Furniss

ESSEX businesses could help fund improvements to the A12 through extra business rates, a public inquiry into the road's future has heard.

Essex County Council has become the first local authority to hold an inquiry into an existing road and yesterday council leader Lord Hanningfield said the additional payments, which could be approved through Government legislation, could be one way of bettering the road's current condition.

However Essex Chamber of Commerce said many businesses would not back the move as they opposed the idea of supplementary business rates “in principle”.

Lord Hanningfield was the first person to give evidence on the second day of the inquiry at Chelmsford's County Hall.

He told the panel of his wish for the council to undertake short-term improvements to the Highways Agency-maintained road and discussed a number of ways of funding the work, with the option of extra business rates one possible source.

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He said: “We haven't got the legislation for that, but I'm sure there will be some legislation for that at some point.

“I think Essex businesses desperately need to see the road improved and they would rather see a raise in business rates spent on that than anything else.”

Lord Hanningfield said the Essex economy lost about £200million per year through hold-ups on the A12 and suggested the council could borrow the cash for any small-scale recommendations put forward by the committee when it makes its report later in the year.

He told the commission, led by former permanent secretary at the department for transport, Sir David Rowlands, that it was also an option for the council to use reward money from the Essex's Local Area Agreement, which is set to be signed off in July.

John Clayton, chief executive of Essex Chamber of Commerce, also gave evidence to committee yesterday, said he welcomed the council's drive to investigate the A12, but felt many businesses would be against any rates increase.

He said: “I don't disagree with him raising it as an issue but some businesses would have a problem with this as they oppose the idea in principle.

“There's been no significant spending (by the Government) on transportation infrastructure. If the Government doesn't invest, how are we going to accommodate new homes and families?

“Lord Hanningfield is thinking around the edge. It's an interesting idea, but part of a much bigger debate on how we finance transport.”

He also submitted a report to the committee showing the findings of a survey carried out by the chamber to gauge its members' views of the state of the A12.

It found that 54% of those questioned considered the A12 as “essential” to their business while a further 33% saw it as “important” or “very important”.

When asked for their views about travelling on the dual carriageway, 56% of the 456 businesses questioned said they felt it had deteriorated in the past 12 months while 85% said access, exits and lay-bys needed to be improved.

Mr Clayton said: “With the state of the A12 and the aspiration of growth in Essex, there's a bit of a mismatch. Something has got to happen.”