[C]HRIS MANN: The future of one of our most important road links has been thrown into doubt by the Labour Party. The plan to replace a busy stretch of the A14 through Cambridgeshire with a toll road has been put out to consultation. Many respected organisations have expressed their concerns. Here’s Stephen Joseph from the Campaign For Better Transport.
STEPHEN JOSEPH: The effects of putting on this toll haven’t been thought through. The evidence from tolls elsewhere, from the M6 toll road, is that actually there’s quite a lot of diversion. People go quite a long way not to pay a toll. So our concern is that the A14 road won’t solve the problems on the A14, and it might make things worse over a much wider area.
CHRIS MANN: Well now Labour says it could scrap the plan if it wins the next election. MP Maria Eagle the Shadow Transport Secretary has been speaking to BBC Look East’s Andrew Sinclair at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. And here’s what she had to say.
MARIA EAGLE: Well I’m concerned about the potential, in a small and densely populated island, of the capacity for people just to go off, increasing congestion on other routes. And so I think that they’ve got to be careful. What they’ve come up with isn’t at all convincing. It’s not convincing that it would be better, or that it would work. And so I think that we would certainly be wanting to have a look at whether or not what they’re proposing is the right way forward.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Would you go as far as to say you would scrap the toll road if you win the next election?
MARIA EAGLE: Well I think we need to look at how far they’ve got – there are things getting delayed out of the Department for Transport – and let’s see in detail what they’re proposing, and whether or not we think it would work. I think there’s some unconvincing evidence. For example the M6 toll has never made money, and people just use other roads that are nearby. So I think we need to have a close look at whether what they’re proposing will actually do what they say it does, and whether it will work. We will certainly do that.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: Can I just ask you a bit more about this congestion business? Because your concern, from what I gather, is that it will just lead to congestion on other roads. I just wondered if you could explain what your concern is really.
MARIA EAGLE: If we look at what’s happened where we’ve had tolls like the M6 toll, everybody just stayed on the old M6, and they run up onto other roads, many of which aren’t designed for heavy traffic. And so you get displacement, you get more congestion, you get worse air quality. So I think we need to look at whether their proposals would actually work. And I don’t think they’ve been very convincing so far. And so I think we would have a close look at how far they’ve got, what they’re saying, whether or not it would work.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: The Government says it will be a very low toll, about a pound, one pound fifty for every car, the hope being that everyone will want to use the toll.
MARIA EAGLE: The evidence of toll roads, the M6 toll for example, people avoided it. So I think we have to have a look very closely at what they’re proposing, and see whether or not we think it will work. (UNCLEAR) have to do that when we get to the Election. I don’t think that they’re going to have got very far with this by the time we get to the Election. So it will give us an opportunity to have a closer look at what the right way forward is.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: But if a toll road isn’t they way forward, how do you afford the improvements for that road?
MARIA EAGLE: Well look I think we need to have a close look at the entire situation. The thing is they have allocated money for improvements to roads, and new road building. I think we need to do this in the context of the entire programme that they’re proposing, not just deal with a road one at a time. certainly I don’t expect them to have got very far with this, and so that does give an opportunity to have a proper look at the right way forward.
ANDREW SINCLAIR: And so you’re saying that they could easily afford it if they really wanted to.
MARIA EAGLE: No. What I’m saying is I’m not convinced by their proposals, and that I’m perfectly willing to have a proper look at the best way forward for the A14, and some of these ideas more generally, once we get to the Election.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Maria Eagle, the Shadow Transport Secretary talking to BBC Look East’s Andrew Sinclair. .. Let’s bring in Cambridge’s Labour Party Candidate, that’s Daniel Zeichner, who is live from Brighton at the Party Conference there. Daniel, hello to you.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Hi Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s try and flesh this out. What exactly is Labour saying? You’d scrap the whole plan, rethink the whole thing?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well no. Lets be clear. Your headline is quite sensational, but what Maria Eagle is actually saying is exactly what you’d expect an incoming Secretary of State to say, that she’d want to look at the details. So we don’t think that this plan is going to be very far progressed by 2015, sadly. As you know I’ve been pushing them to get on with it. But they’re only going to be still at the planning stage. And this isn’t about the principle of the road. It’s about how it’s paid for.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. You said we were sensational. We got something wrong. Well the headline said could a future Labour Government mean the end of the plan to toll the A14. That’s not sensational. That’s a fact isn’t it?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well ..
CHRIS MANN: What’s wrong with that statement?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: What’s wrong with that statement is you’re trying to imply that Maria Eagle is saying something that she isn’t saying. What she’s actually saying is that she’ll look at it. And she’s sceptical. And I think ..
CHRIS MANN: I said could a future Labour Government mean the end of the plan. She says that she’s not convinced by the evidence. She’d need to look at it again. But it didn’t sound to me that she was a kind of person that if she takes office it’s going to be top of her list. Does it to you?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Oh my goodness. It’s very high up our list. Remember it was in Labour’s programme.
CHRIS MANN: What, the toll?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: No not the tolling. The road. And it’s the road that matters. When we left government it was in the programme. The sad truth is that five years on from when Labour left office, we still won’t have got any further on this road with the current Government. So I want to see it getting done. Most people in Cambridgeshire want to see it getting done. But there is a real real doubt in many people’s mind about whether tolling works. What we don’t want to do is spend over a billion pounds, one and a half billion pounds of taxpayers’ money and have an empty road which people aren’t using. That would be daft.
CHRIS MANN: We’ve struggled to find people who are in favour of a toll, it has to be said, apart from the Highways Agency, when they were up last week of course. But they say that’s the proposal, and they’re looking for reaction from people. So maybe they’re just putting that out there. But let’s look at what Maria Eagle was saying, and that was come the Election, which will be 2015 … Am I right?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Yes.
CHRIS MANN: .. that you’d look at it all again. Well by that point you’d have thought they were about to put the spades in the ground, because the planning has to start now, doesn’t it? So if the planning’s happened, will you just suddenly call a halt to it?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: No. She’s not saying we’re looking at it all again. What we want, and this road has been delayed a long time due to planning issues, we want that to be pushed on with. The issue is whether it’s actually tolled or not in the end. Given that there are going to be no tollbooths on this plan, basically you can switch it on and off. And remember that the tolling doesn’t produce any money up front. The Government will have to borrow three hundred million pounds for that element which they think they’re going to get from the tolls. And they’re being very very coy about where that three hundred million pounds comes from.
CHRIS MANN: But to be fair, Maria Eagle’s being a bit coy about exactly what she thinks about it.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well given they’re the ones that are in Government, and are bringing it forward, you’d think they could explain how the funding’s going to work.
CHRIS MANN: You had a plan before when you were in Government, for eleven years. You think you’d have a firm view.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well we do have a firm view. We want the road in place. The thing that delayed it before, as John Bridge and others have frequently said on this programme, were the planning appeals. Now that can be got on with, and we’re almost there in terms of the route. The issue now is, is the money going to be there. And what Labour’s been saying all this week is we’re going to bring forward infrastructure funds. That’s funds for things like roads. So I will be arguing very strongly to Maria and others this is a key route for prosperity in the East of England, and we need to get it done.
CHRIS MANN: Because you’re thinking of scrapping the HS2 as well. Does that mean that you’ll generally stop spending on infrastructure and transport?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Quite the opposite. As I say what we’re saying is this is needed to get the economy going, but you don’t just rush in and spend forty or fifty billion pounds on big transport projects without being pretty sure that you’re spending the money in the right way.
CHRIS MANN: And do you think this is a vote winner for you?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: I’m not sure this is about winning votes actually. I think actually this is a bit more important than that. We’ve been round and round this loop for twenty years. I’ve sat with John Bridge as he’s explained to me how many times he’s explained all this to people. And I think we just need to get on and get it done regardless of party politics.
CHRIS MANN: Daniel Zeichner, thank you for joining us. That’s Cambridge’s Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate’s reaction to Maria Eagle the Shadow Transport Secretary saying she’s not convinced about the evidence of possibly tolling the A14. Hope I got it right.