MPs have debated proposals to toll the A14 today, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill saying it is the only way £105 billion congestion relief scheme can be delivered.
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey raised concerns about the tolling proposal in The House of Commons this morning and was backed by Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley.
“The Government have singled out through-users of the A14 for tolling even though no other major road improvement scheme planned for the next 10 years is to be tolled.
“There is a risk that that will effectively amount to a tax on businesses in East Anglia — bad news for one of UK plc’s leading growth areas,” said Dr Coffey.
She said the announcement of the A14 upgrade between Cambridge and Huntingdon came alongside 24 other road projects whuch are being entirely funded by the Government.
“None of those 24 other routes will be co-financed by tolling,” she said. “Singling out the A14 for tolling appears arbitrary and somewhat unfair.”
“I am afraid that the perception in Suffolk is that East Anglian businesses will end up paying for easing congestion for Cambridge commuters.
“It has been suggested that a tolling element is required to help pay for all these infrastructure changes, but there has been no indication of how long the tolls will be imposed for. Will it simply be for the financing of the project? I received a written answer suggesting that the anticipated revenue is £30 million per year, but there has been no indication of how long tolling will last.
“It seems contradictory to single out that one stretch of the A14, as the existing A14 is rerouted and de-trunked, when the A1, which will also be significantly improved, will not be tolled.
“As the Department will know, there are basically two types of hauliers: first, those that definitely need to arrive on time; and secondly, those for whom cash flow is key.
“Adding to the cost of coming in and out of Suffolk and other parts of East Anglia creates a risk to our economy.
“This is an issue not just for Felixstowe, but for other parts of Ipswich, for Bury St Edmunds and for Haverhill, as well as for Lowestoft.”
Mr Ruffley said: “There is a risk that there will be an A road apartheid in Suffolk—discrimination against business users, and other travellers into the county.”
Dr Coffey “Users feel that they already pay their share; they do not want to be singled out to pay a toll while other parts of the road network continue to be fully financed.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “We in Ipswich, where many hauliers are based, are effectively being asked to pay a congestion charge for Cambridge, and that is wrong.”
But Mr Goodwill said: “The A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge is part of a shortage of residential property in Cambridge is fuelling house price inflation in the region, but new housing developments cannot proceed without better infrastructure. The A14 scheme provides the key to unlock a number of major housing developments along the trunk road corridor and is critical to the plans of the local authorities in the area.
“The case for improving the A14 in the area is overwhelming. The introduction of tolls to fund or part-fund major capital investments in the road network is, however, a well established principle.
“Many of our estuarial bridge and tunnel crossings, including the Mersey tunnels, the River Severn crossings and the Dartford crossing, are tolled, but the M6 toll, which opened in December 2003 to bypass a heavily trafficked section of the M6 through Birmingham, is currently the only principal road in Britain to be tolled. Proposals to toll part of the A14 Cambridge-to-Huntingdon improvement were announced as part of the Government’s commitment in June.
“The Government have previously stated that, although they have no intention to toll existing capacity on Britain’s trunk road and motorway network, where investment in new infrastructure constitutes a significant transformation of the existing route the option to introduce tolls on new sections of road is seen as a means of making the capital investment more affordable. Such a situation exists on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.
“The proposed scheme, at £1.5 billion, constitutes more than a 10th of the Highways Agency’s entire capital budget to the end of the decade and the transport and economic benefits of the improvement to the east of England, in particular the Cambridge sub-region, are significant.
“The Government will still bear the brunt of the capital costs associated with the scheme, but it is fair that the road users who will benefit most should make a contribution to the construction costs. “Although my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal discussed the impact of the charge on the people and businesses in East Anglia, the current levels of congestion and delay on this section of road already result in a significant cost to those living and working in the region.
“Tolling therefore makes the A14 scheme more affordable. An important principle underpinning the tolling strategy for the A14 is that tolls, while making a meaningful contribution towards the cost of the scheme, should not deter motorists from using the new road, particularly when making long-distance trips through the region. Tariffs will therefore be kept as low as possible, with light vehicles being expected to pay around £1 or £1.50 at current-day prices and heavy vehicles paying around double that cost. It is anticipated that tolls will be charged seven days a week, but that overnight trips will be free. That may encourage some commercial operators to use the road at night when it is expected to be less busy.
“A second principle that remains fundamental to the development of this scheme has been to channel the right traffic on to the right roads, separating long-distance through-traffic from local traffic. The proposed scheme makes provision for local and commuter traffic to use a new side-road network between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which is toll-free and which eliminates much of the conflict between local and strategic users.”