George Wicker UK copywriter

Toll of the Bell for the A14 in Suffolk

Earlier this year, the Government put forward a proposal to improve the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The cost? An estimated £1.5bn. The proposed means of raising the money? Government funding, together with financial contributions from road users by means of a tolled section of the road.

Anyone who regularly travels the the route between Suffolk and the Midlands knows that this section of the A14 needs improving. It's something the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates have always campaigned for. But the emphasis on tolling to pay for the improvements, with no easy alternatives available (although the Highways Agency insist there will be alternative routes for local traffic) is not acceptable.

The immediate effect of a tolled section of the A14 will be on businesses travelling up and down it. It will put added financial pressure on them at a time when high fuel prices and a weak economy are pressure enough. It will severely affect haulage firms dependent on transport moving between Felixstowe and the Midlands. Extra costs can only be passed on to the consumer and may in the long term make other ports, firms or parts of the country appear more attractive to investors or import/export companies.

However, our main concern with the proposal is the tolling element itself, and what it means for the future of road transport in this country. It is because an original consultancy report ( published in November 2012) concluded that the road improvements were not cost-effective, that tolling the road became integral to the proposal. The initial toll cost is estimated to be £1.50 per car and £3 per van or lorry. This could of course increase when the expected cost (how many construction projects these days come in under budget?) also rises.

So, long term we can expect to see many more road improvements paid for by taxpaying businesses and individuals. Meanwhile the rail infrastructure, HS2 apart, continues to decline. The emphasis on developing roads means more traffic pollution, more noise, more disruption to the countryside, and consequently more emphasis on cars and lorries as a solution to transport. The Chamber believes that the proposal as it stands is not a long term solution to the transport problems of the region, and the overall strategy for the area needs to be reviewed.

As Stephen Joseph, Executive Director of the Campaign for Better Transport says, "Why is the Government trying to build roads we don't need with money it hasn't got? We should be looking at measures to help people to leave the car at home and investing in alternatives to yet more tarmac, such as increasing the amount of freight we move by rail."

 

Newspaper Article ©Bury Chamber of Commerce 2014