Transport bosses to renew fight for �20m Government funding for Fen roads

HIGHWAYS bosses insist they will renew their fight for more than �20million of Government cash to salvage drought, frost and rain-damaged Fen roads.

Fears have grown that Fenland roads could close to traffic due to a lack of money to carry out repairs and the effect of extreme weather conditions throughout the year.

Funding bids from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire county councils, plus Peterborough City Council, to patch-up worse than expected drought damage in the Fens failed earlier this year.

Transport minister Norman Baker insisted it would be unfair on national taxpayers and local authorities to provide more cash on top of existing grants to the region.

But Norfolk county councillors yesterday backed plans to again join with neighbouring authorities to push the government to fund improvements across the four counties.

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An investigation into Fenland infrastructure problems has also been agreed to take place after May’s election, which could examine how poor transport links affect people’s lives.

But a suggestion for the council to withdraw �2.5million reserved for Norwich’s northern bypass (NDR) to deal with existing road problems was rejected.

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Urgent repairs for Ten Mile Bank and Engine Road, south of Downham Market, are also expected to start next month.

Tony White, Feltwell division member, told yesterday’s Norfolk County Council cabinet scrutiny meeting: “We’ve got to keep pushing this and go back to him [Norman Baker] to see if we can get some money, otherwise we will not be able to keep using the roads.”

Graham Plant, cabinet member for transport, said the infrastructure of the west is “so unique”, and needed government help.

He said: “We are fighting for the west and to get their money. It’s very important the west is not seen in isolation, but as part of the bigger problem.

“That’s why we work closely with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Anything that happens in the west affects those two counties too.”

Richard Rockcliffe, Fincham division county councillor, added: “More or less throughout my division the Fenland roads don’t have foundations. They are cart tracks with more and more material put on them. Now we are getting heavier and heavier lorries and it’s creating this.”

The county council provided an extra �2.35million to prevent the worst-case scenario of closing Fenland roads during 2012/13 and this is expected to be repeated in 2013/14.

Norfolk’s bid to the government earlier this year was �3.8million, although it is estimated the actual cost to repair damage in the Fens is �8.92million.

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said the council had only just received news of the �2million boost in funding for roads.

The council will look at how the money is to be spent “but clearly the need for significant investment in Fenland roads has been identified”.

Work to Ten Mile Bank and Engine Road was planned to start on December 3, but was postponed until the New Year after its diversion route into Cambridgeshire clashed with repairs over the border.

The roadworks are now due to start on January 14 and last three weeks.

Barry Wiles, from A10 Driving School, based in Downham Market, said: “The roads in the Fens are getting worse year in, year out. I think a lot of is it down to not filling the edges of the road properly and some of the roads in the Fens are very dangerous.

“Any investment can only be seen as a good thing. I’ve taught quite a few people in places like Ten Mile Bank and it’s hard enough trying to learn on a normal road let alone the roads in the Fens.

“Barroway Drove was a death trap for a long time but the improvements there have improved it.”

John Joyce, the county council’s assistant director of highways, said: “I think every part of the country has its own issue. It’s a bit difficult to describe the Fens as the worst in the country as it depends what the conditions are.”

Mr Joyce said weather conditions in the last couple of years, including drought and recent heavy rain, had made the roads susceptible to problems.

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