Tories hesitant about giving £1m from Fenland to help toll A14 despite leader claiming to be “fully behind” plans
- Credit: Archant
TORY members of Fenland District Council – with the notable absence of former Cabinet member Kit Owen who remains suspended- have refused to sanction cash towards major improvements to the A14.
At a group meeting last night, I understand that councillors put off a decision even though council leader Alan Melton and chief executive Paul Medd attended a summit of all Cambridgeshire councils this month at which ‘in principle’ funding was agreed.
Cllr Melton declined to comment today but there are some within his group who believe Fenland would gain no benefit from an upgrade to a road 40-50 miles away from much of the district.
One councillor told me today: “The question is what Fenland will get out of this improvement scheme? We urgently need improvements to the A47 and A605 and these are more important to us.”
Prior to last month’s county elections Cllr Melton had insisted that “investment in the A14 is absolutely vital for further economic growth in Fenland.”
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He also added that it is “is particularly important in the absence of any major announcements about improvements to the A47, the other main east-west route. We are fully behind these imaginative proposals.”
That, of course, was before he had the difficult task of ‘selling’ them to his Conservative colleagues from parts of Fenland which never use the A14!
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At an A14 summit meeting in Cambridge on June 10 council representatives and members of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGPLEP) agreed in principle to put up £100m towards the project over 25 years
The agreement is subject to a number of caveats including a cap at £100m – even if the scheme goes over budget.
But getting Fenland to agree to a suggested £1m and paid over 25 years is proving hard to sell to local councillors.
There is also the question of whether the Conservatives, now running a minority administration at Shire Hall, will still be able to command widespread support for a major investment into the A14.
Chancellor George Osborne is within days of sanctioning the scheme within the Comprehensive the Comprehensive Spending Review next Wednesday but will insist on £100m being contributed locally.
The GCGPLEP has pledged £50m –money raised from business rates from the Alconbury Weald Enterprise Zone – with Huntingdonshire District Council adding £5m to the pot and Cambridgeshire County Council contributing around £20m.
A CCC spokesman said: “Government and local authorities have been working hard together to bring forward the A14 improvements which will boost the local and UK economy as well as reducing accidents.”
The £.15bn A14 scheme – hastily ditched in October 2010 to save money and hurriedly restored to the strategic roads programme last year when Ministers realised it was crucial to Britain’s economic recovery – involves widening between Fen Drayton and Fen Ditton and a new six-lane southern bypass of Huntingdon and Godmanchester.
As a face-saver for Chancellor George Osborne, who abandoned it as part of his first strategic spending review on October 20, 2010, because the price looked ‘unaffordable’, the new scheme is required to be part-tolled and to need third-party contributions of £100m-150m over 20 years.
With a fair wind, work on it could start in 2017, with the road fully open three years later.
Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire and South Cambridgeshire District Councils, all of which are geographically affected by the upgrade, have all committed to the principle of contributing to the cost of the upgrade.
Cambridge City Council has so far refused on the grounds, it claims, that upgrading the A14 would not be beneficial to the city.