Transport links 'need urgent upgrading'

ROAD and rail links in the east of England are at breaking point and must be upgraded if the region is to meet the demands of the 21st Century, according to a new report.

ROAD and rail links in the east of England are at breaking point and must be upgraded if the region is to meet the demands of the 21st Century, according to a new report.

The State of the Nation annual review by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) was released yesterday and paints a bleak picture.

The report claims huge investment is needed by 2021 if East Anglia is to cope with more than 400,000 extra jobs, nearly half a million new homes and the expansion of Stansted Airport and the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich.

It reads: “As all existing non-local networks are generally at, or rapidly approaching full capacity, this situation represents a very real and present threat to the economic viability of the region.”

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As a result ICE are calling for investment in road and rail links including the acceleration of improvements on the A14, the reinstatement as a priority of the A120 Braintree to A12 link to improve traffic flow between Colchester, Ipswich and Stansted, the upgrading of the Ipswich to Nuneaton and north London orbit rail links and the reintroduction of the Braintree to Stansted rail line.

The group claim there is also a need for innovative traffic demand solutions and affordable transport systems including light rail, guided buses and cycleways.

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The region's roads and transport bosses have welcomed the report, saying it echoed concerns they had had for some time.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council portfolio holder for roads and transport, said: “ICE is quite right to draw attention to the infrastructure deficit and it is something the regional assembly has been doing for a while.

“The Government want us to encourage more people to use public transport and reduce car usage but they refuse to fund real improvement.”

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the government needed to invest more in the A12 and A14 because during rush hour they were “not fit for purpose” as businesses were losing trade as a result of congestion.

Rodney Bass, Essex County Council's cabinet member for transport, said ICE was 90% in agreement with what councillors had been supporting for the last three years.

“As far as Essex and our immediate neighbours are concerned there is a very serious deficiency in transport infrastructure,” he said. “We strongly advocate the completion of the dualisation of the A120 between Braintree and the A12, and from Horsley Cross to Harwich, to create a complete dualised link between Harwich and Stansted and the M11.”

A spokesperson for the Highways Agency, which is responsible for the upkeep of the A12 and A14, said the authority was committed to delivering safety and journey time improvements.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “Upgrading the north London rail lines is an issue that we are continuing to investigate. With regards to the reinstatement of the Braintree to Stansted line, there would have to be evidence that there is a clear demand for such a service before any scheme could be considered.”

He added that a Route Utilisation Strategy for the Anglian region would be launched early next year which would feature a series off options aimed at increasing capacity to cope with greater demand.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said Government funding for transport in the east of England had increased from £56m in 2000-1 to £157m in 2005-6.

“The Government is committed to investing in transport for the east of England and is working closely with regional partners to deliver improvements to the network,” she said.

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