Sunday, 14 July 2013

A14 upgrade helps ensure a positive future for Cambridgeshire

When I was recently being interviewed by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire about the A14 upgrade announcement and the possible City Deal for Greater Cambridge the presenter made the comment that it had been a good week for the County.

When I became leader these were two of the things on the top of my agenda to help deliver for Cambridgeshire. Both of these issues are real game changers for the County and, in the case of the A14, for the whole eastern region. Which is why I was pleased to hear Government’s commitment to the A14 upgrade in George Osborne’s Spending Review Speech.

The radio interview was on the day I was part of a delegation representing Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the University of Cambridge, arguing our City Deal case. In a nutshell this would give us powers to keep a portion of the taxes generated locally to benefit our communities. Initially the City Deal will give us the ability to unlock the massive potential there is in the Greater Cambridge area, potential that is inhibited by the state of the transport infrastructure. If we get this sorted, we can compete with the likes of Boston, San Francisco and Bangalor and help both the Cambridgshire economy and, of course, deliver an increased tax take for the treasury. It is worth saying that in my opinion, the A14 upgrade is a critical part of unlocking the potential of Greater Cambridge.

When I took part in a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister about the City Deal, I explained to him that I felt it was right that the County Council played an active part in the City Deal (when other county Councils haven't) I explained that I saw the City Deal as a starting point and that the County would look to use any forthcoming opportunities for funding to ensure we create a ripple effect, so the Cambridge growth potential becomes whole Cambridgeshire potential. The recent announcement of £3.2m grant for an agri-tech centre for our area gives a perfect example of the sort of benefit I hope our ambition will provide for the wider County.

To the thousands of us who use the A14 on a daily basis I don’t have to outline the misery in terms of lost business and lives over the years. This over capacity road which clogs instantly and gridlocks local roads is often the reason businesses will not locate in Cambridgeshire. We were all angry when the plans were dropped and have worked hard to convince Government of the importance of improving this road.

It is a vital artery for traffic from the ports and links Cambridgeshire into the wider motorway network. A flowing and safer A14 attracts business and jobs that benefit the whole of the County. Councils now benefit financially from business growth through Business Rate retention; I would have preferred to see this £1.5 billion project paid for by Government, but Treasury and the Department for Transport have made it clear this would not happen; they told us local contributions are needed as well as some form of tolling. In truth, the fact that we will now benefit financially from the upgrade means that there is a case for us to contribute to the project - it is also the reason why many other local authorities have chosen to contribute; Councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships have come together along the length of the A14 to help provide the local funding. Indeed our local businesses recognise the importance of the A14 when the Local Enterprise Partnership voted to give £50 million towards the improvements.

The debate about the A14 at our Full Council meeting next week is likely to be the one that creates the headlines. For that reason it is important that people see all of the facts, instead of the select few that generate headlines. Here are a few things that everyone should know and which those who are opposing our contribution will not tell you:

  • The most important fact is that the A14 upgrade will save lives.
  • Tolling will generate about £300m to the cost of the scheme
  • The tolling has been modelled on a £1 contribution for cars and £2 for lorries. At that level it will cost more in drivers' time and petrol costs if they ignore the A14 and choose to rat run
  • There will always be a free local alternative to the A14 - and that alternative will be modelled to prevent rat running (i.e. with weight limits)
  • Both Cambridgeshire County Council and the wider Cambridgeshire economy will benefit by far more than the £25m we will be contributing to the upgrade.
  • The contribution is spread over 25 years with no interest applied.
  • If the cost of the A14 upgrade is more than the £1.5b estimate, our contribution will not go up. Conversely, if the cost of the scheme is brought down, our contribution will reduce proportionately.

As with all things, we need to see the details, but with a £1.5 billion investment in the A14 and the possibility of unlocking millions of pounds for the City Deal things are looking up for the Cambridgeshire economy - if these projects are successful we can anticipate significant growth, growth that will help local authorities, local people and local businesses financially.

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