One of the most popular surveys ever undertaken by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has seen the business community in the county back new options for improvements to the A14.
Hundreds of businesses took part in a snap shot survey that was seeking views on the government’s engagement exercise ‘how the A14 can be improved to deliver quicker more reliable and safer journeys on the route between Cambridge and Huntingdon’ that is looking for new and viable options for the Fen Ditton stretch of the A14.
The results of the survey, which was run through December and up to the end of January show that while just under 55% of businesses would like the option of a toll road for the A14 section in question, just over two thirds (68%) would not be willing to pay £5 to use it.
“The A14 plays a fundamental part in the daily operation of the Suffolk economy,” said Dr Peter Funnell, the President of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. “For far too long the need to address what are regular incidents of congestion has been ignored. The results of this survey are a clear indication that business wants action on improvements and wants that action now.”
The Government acknowledges that the A14 has long suffered capacity and congestion problems with detrimental consequences for the economy of East Anglia and UK PLC as a whole. The problems are at their worst as the A14 passes through Cambridgeshire and on into Northamptonshire but the effect is to strangle road transport into and out of Suffolk.
Therefore the HM Treasury’s 2011 Autumn Statement set out the government’s intention to address problems with the A14 which they then followed up with the A14 Challenge – an engagement process which will involve all key partners in Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshireshire and seeks views on the way ahead including whether the improvements on this pinch point of the A14 should be funded by a toll road.
Suffolk Chamber is working with other business bodies and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to ensure the voice of the business community is heard. The results of the survey will form the spine of the submission being made to central Government.
“While we welcome the government’s announcement that something needs to be done, it needs to be the right solution,” Peter Funnell added. “These results show that while a majority of businesses think a toll road along the Fen Ditton section of the A14 should be considered, they are not willing to pay a high price. It has to be right for business and it has to be right for the economy.”
“Many of our members, including the major logistics operators across the county tell us on a regular basis how congestion on the A14 has a major negative effect on their business,” he continued. “That is why so many people completed our short but important survey to share their views on what needs to be done and whether tolling would be an option for them.”
The response to the A14 challenge also sets out that although the worst problems on the road are in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, the effect has led to strangled road transport in and out of Suffolk.
The coalition government withdrew proposals when it took office in 2010 on improvement to the A14 on the grounds that the £1.2 billion cost was not affordable. While the Chamber has supported the Government’s austerity drive, it feels with the investment being made in the Felixstowe to Nuneaton railway line and the Kettering by pass, the A14 in the East must be a priority for Whitehall.
“The country’s largest container port, Felixstowe, lies of the Suffolk coast,” said Dr Funnell. “Therefore we can argue that if the A14 is to deliver quicker, more reliable and safer journeys, then the views of Suffolk businesses must be heard.”
The report to government, that also shows just over 61% of respondents do not think tolling of the Fen Ditton section would have a direct positive impact on the local Suffolk economy, adds that business is prepared to consider and contribute to innovative approaches but they are keen to be involved in the detail of proposals particularly the degree in which they may add cost to goods and services.
“This is not the end of our work on the A14,” Peter Funnell concluded. “This is just the beginning of a whole set of activities and submissions that business across the East will make.”