Minister backs benefit of A11 dualling

COMPLETING the dualling of the A11 would produce economic benefits worth 20 times the cost of the scheme, it was confirmed by the government in the Commons yesterday.

Transport minister Mike Penning acknowledged that analysis done for his department had given the “very, very high” benefit to cost ratio of 20 for dualling the sole remaining single-carriageway stretch of the road between Barton Mills and Thetford.

He emphasised that he was unable to announce there and then that the scheme would be given the go-ahead, and that he was constrained in what he could say by the government’s comprehensive spending review and by the public inquiry that was held earlier in the year.

But his comments about the benefit-cost ratio and his general tone amounted to a very positive response, said West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock, who had initiated a Commons debate on the “economic impact for East Anglia of dualling the A11”.

Seven other Norfolk and Suffolk MPs - Elizabeth Truss (SW Norfolk); Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth); Peter Aldous (Waveney); Keith Simpson (Broadland); George Freeman (Mid Norfolk); Ben Gummer (Ipswich); and Simon Wright (Norwich South) - joined him in urging the government to give the green light to the scheme, and in emphasising that the nine-mile single-carriageway section of the A11 in the Elveden area was a prime example of infrastructure under-investment holding back the East Anglian economy.

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All of these MPs are in parties in the coalition government.

Mr Hancock, who before becoming an MP in May was an aide to chancellor George Osborne, challenged Mr Penning officially to accept that a consultant’s report to the Department for Transport had concluded that there would be a benefit to cost ration of 20 for the A11 dualling.

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The report said that, in 2002 prices, the scheme would cost �86.5m after allowing for almost �19m of extra indirect tax revenue from it, and that the benefits would add up to slightly over �1.7bn.

This was made up of over �1.1bn business benefits, almost �570m consumer benefits and over �100m of benefit from a reduction in accidents on the road.

Mr Penning said that all aspects of the scheme would be looked at, including pollution caused by the existing congestion and the fact that “there will be no point in building more homes if the infrastructure cannot cope”.

He also encouraged the local MPs in speaking of his personal knowledge of the problems caused by the single-carriageway A11. His children were keen visitors to Center Parcs, he said, and before the traffic lights were installed at Eleveden he had known what it was like to ‘take lives in one’s hands’ by trying to turn on to the A11.

Mr Hancock said there could be no denying that the national finances were in a mess. But financial retrenchment was most successful when most targeted at current spending, he continued, and priority should be given to projects with a “significant financial return to the country”.

The conclusions of the government’s spending review are to be announced in October.

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