The Government is again being urged to consider plans to upgrade the A14. According to reports today, the prospect of tolling the route is back on the negotiating table.
17:17 Wednesday 9th November 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY BURROWS: The Government is again being urged to consider plans to upgrade the A14. According to reports today, the prospect of tolling the route is back on the negotiating table. The business lobby group the CBI says the A14 desperately needs to be widened, to cope with the amount of traffic that uses the route. Earlier on I spoke to the CBI’s Regional Director Richard Tunnicliffe. (TAPE)
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: We suggested a few measures actually to boost infrastructure investment UK-wide. First on the list would be to bring forward some schemes that were planned for 2013, and literally start getting shovels in the ground as soon as we possibly can. And the second one, which includes the A14, is to look at some of those schemes that were shelved shortly after the election, in the Autumn Statement this time last year, to see how the private sector could invest in new roads, and then charge a toll to use them. And I think it’s worth saying at the start of this that we’re not suggesting that we stick a toll-booth on the A14 and start charging people to use the current congested A14. It’s got to be an alternative, and those that choose to go on a new road, or a new lane on the existing road, can do so, but those that don’t want to pay it can carry on using the A14. A bit like the M6 toll road up in the West Midlands.
ANDY BURROWS: Because the Government supposedly has a rule in place which wouldn’t allow existing roads to be tolled.
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: That’s right.
ANDY BURROWS: So this would be a brand new road.
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: It would either be a new road or I think probably pushing the Government’s current stance as it stands actually would be to put an additional lane in. Which they could then use some kind of technology to use, to charge users using number plate technology and stuff like that. I think the technical term is multi-use technology. So yes, we don’t think they should just start charging tolls on existing roads. That’s just not fair, and doesn’t actually alleviate the congestion problem. It just ends up being a tax on all of us that drive.
ANDY BURROWS: This would be a multi-million pound project though. Funding, you’re confident, could be found from private business, could it?
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: I’m pretty sure that whether it be UK-based financial institutions, or world-wide financial institutions, would stump up the money to build it. As you say, it’s going to be multi-million pounds. I think the bill for the A14 plan that was shelved last year was about £1.3 .. £1.4 billion. Obviously a new lane or a new couple of lanes on the existing road, and just essentially widening it, would not be nearly as expensive as that. But it’s not cheap. But yes, we as an organisation are pretty confident that there would be somebody out there that would see a return on this in the medium to long term.
ANDY BURROWS: There is some data to suggest that the M6 toll road, the amount of traffic on it, over the recent years, has fallen, and people have reverted back to the M6. Do you think that’s the case? Do you think that could happen on the A14? It might initially be something that many people would use, especially businesses use, but over time, it would actually fall away.
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: I think the fall away of traffic on the M6 toll road is probably due to the economy slowing down a bit, and just there being less cars on the road, less lorries on the road. So I would certainly take a punt, if I thought it wasn’t going to be too busy, I’d save the five quid or the six quid or whatever the M6 toll is, to chance my arm not having to pay it, to be completely honest.
ANDY BURROWS: These are all fine ideas of course, but is anyone actually listening?
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: Well there’s an article in the FT this morning, saying that the Chancellor and the Business Secretary seem relatively pro this. So I think now is the time to be knocking on their door to suggest it, to be completely honest.
ANDY BURROWS: And what about the green lobby? Because there’s a lot of green land, isn’t there, either side of the A14. Do you think you could satisfy their concerns about taking away from what is possibly green belt, in some cases?
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: Well it’s always going to be a fine balance between working out the needs of the economy and growth in the economy and jobs, and satisfying the green lobby. I’m not a civil engineer. I’m not an engineer at all. I think any new road, any widening of the road, would have to go through a due planning process, and we would hope that we would get some kind of result in the short term on this.
ANDY BURROWS: So your message to Government today is ..
RICHARD TUNNICLIFFE: We need extra investment in our roads. We’ve needed it for many years, certainly the East of England, South-East. We’ve had an infrastructure deficit for a long long time. The A14, whilst some may see it as a parochial issue, is actually one of the main arteries in and out of both the East of England, but then across to the Midlands. So we need extra capacity on that. (LIVE)
ANDY BURROWS: Certainly something to think about there from Richard Tunnicliffe, who is the Regional Director of the CBI. A local businessman as well.