John Bridge on the A14

10:40 Wednesday 2nd February 2011
Andy Harper Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY HARPER: Well, it is chaos on Cambridgeshire’s roads again this morning, because of this accident on the A14. And it has a massive knock-on on the lives of people across the county. When the upgrade of the road was abandoned by the Government, it was proposed to improve it using private investment, possibly even a toll road. In November, John Bridge from Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, who was working on it, gave the chances of success as 50%. I wonder what they are now. John, good morning to you.
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes, good morning Andy.
ANDY HARPER: We often seem to speak to you John, when there’s chaos on the A14, which is of course far too often. And once again, people are saying look, something has got to be done. We know the Government aren’t going to spend any money on it, so what are our alternatives?
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes. Clearly this is just one of a series now of situations occurring, which actually creates great misery for so many people, and gridlocks the whole area. It is really totally unacceptable. And we are desperately trying to convey to Ministers the real seriousness of the situation, and the fact that we cannot continue to have these problems along the A14 corridor. And it will begin to negatively impact on economic growth and our economic prosperity, if we don’t actually deal with the issue. My big concern since last November is that we were promised then by Ministers that we would get a very quick and early look at the ability to get private money into actually developing the road scheme that had been put forward. I don’t really believe that they are dealing with this with the urgency and seriousness that they need to do. Because regretfully, although all the Leaders of the Council, myself, and many other local bodies sent a letter, we are yet to get an answer to it in a meaningful way, which actually shows the constructive way that we can consider all these different options.
ANDY HARPER: Now I know that some sort of toll road or private investment was mooted John, but how much of a reality is that? Is that just clutching at straws really?
JOHN BRIDGE: What we are trying to do is that clearly we feel that if we can try and keep the current scheme as it’s agreed, it is the quickest way of us trying to find a solution to the road. And what we need to do is ensure that we go through and see whether or not it is feasible for private money to be used to deliver the scheme as we now have it, as we have the orders already issued for it, and it is possible just then to continue with the inspector’s view of it, in terms of a public inquiry, and deal with it. If we have to start from scratch, and look at different alternatives, I genuinely believe we’re looking at a 15 to 20 year period. And I don’t think that we have that time to be able to continue with the road as it is, particularly with the viaduct so unviable at Huntingdon. The fact that we can’t build houses along it, Northstowe is not going to be able to be developed. We need to find an urgent solution. And somehow or other we have to push Ministers to really get on and look at private money being able to be used along this stretch.
ANDY HARPER: See you mentioned the time, and that was what I was going to say to you John. This is the third time probably in the last month that there’s been problems, not in the same place obviously, but we are reporting on the road being closed. 15 years! Even 5 years is too long for people who are sitting on that road today, trapped for hours in their vehicles.
JOHN BRIDGE: It is indeed. And I don’t think that we have managed to convey really the true reality of the issue of the impact that the continuing problems on the road have on everybody in this area, as well as people further afield, who have to try and travel along it. And in particular, when the Government is saying that they really believe the way we’re going to get out of the current economic crisis is through growth, and obviously enabling businesses to grow and take on more people, the one thing the A14 is doing is actually stopping exactly that happening. And if we really want that economic growth, if we really want to continue to be vibrant, if we want Cambridge to be able to continue to be an international renown city for all the high-tech industries that it’s currently got, then we have to find a solution to that road. Because otherwise we’ll find that companies will be going off in other directions, in other parts of the world.
ANDY HARPER: You see John, what puzzles me is that Cambridgeshire is a Conservative county with a big C, and we have some quite high-profile members of Parliament here, Government Ministers and what not, and yet even they can’t seem to get through to people who need to appreciate the hell that we go through here in this county, on a regular basis.
JOHN BRIDGE: Yes. It really is very difficult. Ironically only just over a week ago we had all the problems on the Friday afternoon. And we actually had one of the Housing Ministers here. And he got caught up in it all. And we said to him, would you please convey this back to your colleagues, the disastrous state of affairs that we have, where nothing can actually happen, and everything is gridlocked, just because we have a road which is totally inadequate for purpose.
ANDY HARPER: As ever John, it’s good to talk to you. I just have a feeling that if I’m spared, and still here talking about this in five years time, so will you be as well.
JOHN BRIDGE: I very much regret Andy that we’ve talked about it far too much. The point that I really want to convey to the Government is the time for talking about this needs to stop, and we actually need to take some tangible action to deal with the issues, and get on, and find a solution to this road problem.
ANDY HARPER: Thanks John. Always good to talk to you. Thanks very much for joining us.
JOHN BRIDGE: Cheers Andy.
ANDY HARPER: That’s John Bridge from the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, expressing what so many of us feel, but as frustrated as the next man. And we could be, as I say, talking about this in years and years to come.