17:06 Monday 12th December 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire:
CHRIS MANN: The Government launched a major consultation exercise, to find out just what to do with the A14. They have made it very clear that no more public money will be available to fix the problem road, but they think that private companies will be interested in financing a new project. The Department of Transport’s so-called A14 Challenge calls on motorists, businesses and residents to submit proposals for delivering quicker more reliable and safer journeys, on the road between Cambridge and Huntingdon. The consultation will help to shape recommendations, which will be presented to Ministers next summer. Of course Chancellor George Osborne has already announced a £20 million package to fund quick win measures to reduce congestion. Mike Penning the Roads Minister made the announcement today, and he joined me from his offices a short time ago to tell me what he hoped would happen. (TAPE)
MIKE PENNING: Well instead of the Government knowing best, I want the public and businesses to tell us what the future of the A14 needs to be. I don’t have £1.2 billion to build what everybody knows we need, so we need to look at what the other options are, what sort of size the other options are, whether it should be tolled or not, how many sections, all of that sort of thing, so we know best where we go from here.
CHRIS MANN: You want private involvement to help finance this. How do you make it attractive to an independent company?
MIKE PENNING: Well that’s the way that this is done, because that means tolling, and that means that they must add as much traffic on those roads as possible, keeping it off the local roads in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. But at the same time, the community have got to buy into this. And so I had my meetings with politicians locally, but what I want is the public to understand what’s happening.
CHRIS MANN: Tolling an unimproved A14 has been ruled out. Can we confirm that?
MIKE PENNING: Yes. We will not toll existing roads. And I’m investing £20 million at the moment as an interim measure, to actually get some work done now. But in the long term, mid to long term, we know we need a new road and we know it needs to be tolled.
CHRIS MANN: What about putting extra lanes on the existing road and tolling them? Would that be possible?
MIKE PENNING: Well if there’s new fast lanes, that is something we’ll look at. But at the moment, let’s see what comes forward from the public and from the businesses, and they can tell us what’s needed in that part of the world.
CHRIS MANN: Is this a way of putting it off?
MIKE PENNING: No not at all. Far from it. We need growth, and we need this road to be sorted out. But I have to be honest, do I have £1.2 billion to do it? No. That’s my whole road project for the whole country for the next three years.
CHRIS MANN: Would you admit that politicians, governments, in the past, have got this wrong? This should have ben sorted before now.
MIKE PENNING: Yes.
CHRIS MANN: Should it have been sorted last time, when there was money available, quite recently?
MIKE PENNING: No, because we didn’t have the money available. The whole of my road project this time last year, for the whole country, for three years, was £1.4 billion. This is a £1.2 billion project. And we were honest at that time, and said we didn’t have the money. So let’s get on and se how we can do it.
CHRIS MANN: Can you get this transport, enough of it, off the roads onto the rail? Is that a solution, or not?
MIKE PENNING: A lot of it is coming off, and a lot of it will continue to come off and get on the rail in a modal shift, and I want more coastal shipping taking place. But we all know, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, that a heck of a lot of it will be on the A14, trying to get onto the major road network in the country. So that means we need a road fit for the 21st century.
CHRIS MANN: A lot of people listen to this programme as they’re driving on the A14, as you’ll know. Some of them will be sitting in a jam right now. Can those individual drivers, individual people, can they get in touch with you and tell you what they want.
MIKE PENNING: Absolutely. This is a fully interactive A14 Challenge. Our website, everybody, whether you’re a big company, small company, just someone who uses it to take your daughter to school, or someone that uses it to go to work. Be involved, because this will actually have a major change on your infrastructure in your part of the world. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Mike Penning the Roads Minister talking to me a little earlier on.