Mayor James Palmer has described the Combined Authority Board’s approval of a comprehensive, single route approach to dualling the whole of the A47 in Cambridgeshire as a significant step forward in the long wait for the road to be upgraded.
A paper presented to the Board on Wednesday (October 31) also described the economic case of dualling the single carriageway part of the road from the A16 junction east of Peterborough through to Walton Highway, east of Wisbech, as stronger than previously thought.
The new study has identified three route options for upgrading the whole of the A47 in Cambridgeshire to dual carriageway. This represents a different approach to the body responsible for the road, Highways England, which has put forward piecemeal improvements at certain critical pinch-points. Dualling the whole of the road in the county would also align with the Combined Authority’s strategic approach to improving the economy and unlocking jobs and housing through critical transport infrastructure upgrades. The report found that these economic benefits make a strong case to Government for dualling through strong benefit-cost ratio (BCR) figures.
The study estimated that an additional 30,000 homes could be unlocked in the A47 corridor in Cambridgeshire, including through the proposed Wisbech Garden Town, when the road is upgraded. The upgrade would also fit in with the Mayor’s longer term plan to extend the M11 north to the A47.
A single route approach also significantly accelerates the timescales for delivery, a key priority for the Mayor, with construction estimated to run between 2025-27 rather than a completion in 2033 under a more conventional piecemeal approach to upgrading the road. The estimated cost of the scheme is £600-£800 million, with a bid for funding planned to go to the Department for Transport’s Roads Investment Strategy 2 (RIS 2) funding round, which runs 2020-25.
Mayor James Palmer said:“In one of the richest economies in the world, it is frankly astonishing that two large, important urban centres in Peterborough and Norwich are connected by a road that is majority single carriageway. The A47 connects our manufacturing heartland in the Midlands with the East and its ports – it is vital to both the local and national economy.
“Talk of upgrading this road has gone on for years, and it never fails to frustrate me just how long it takes for self-evidently obviously needed investments in our transport infrastructure to come to fruition. People and businesses are fed up with waiting for action on the A47, and so am I, but the Combined Authority has a unique opportunity to help deliver this upgrade, and years ahead of conventional timescales for a scheme of this size. By taking a single route instead of a conventional piecemeal approach, we can rapidly accelerate this scheme, and following my meeting with Highways England Chief Executive Jim O’Sullivan in July, we are now engaging positively with their regional team to ensure our work meets their technical requirements.
“It will require significant investment, and it will require Highways England and the Government to come to the table on funding. But we also have to consider what the total cost to the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the northern part of East Anglia generally has been with decades of underinvestment in this key route.
“It is also important to recognise just what a dangerous road the A47 continues to be for those who use the route. Too often we hear of serious accidents and collisions, resulting in serious, life-changing injury, and sometimes deaths. Dualling would also make this key route safer for the many thousands of people that use it every day.
“But our pleas alone will not be enough to get this road dualled, so I’m encouraged to see that this paper also presents us with the economic case for investing in this road. Improving journey times, attracting inward investment, unlocking housing growth including via a new garden town for Wisbech, and creating jobs, all serve to present a compelling economic case for dualling. It is vital we prove that every pound invested in this road will pay for itself many times over in order to attract Government investment.
“The A47 Alliance campaign, bringing together the voices of the public, businesses, local MPs, councillors and more, across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, is showing the determination we all have in making the case for dualling. But now really is the time to start delivering and I’m absolutely determined that we focus on bringing this single route scheme to fruition, working closely with those in central Government and Highways England to ensure that construction begins in 2025.”
The next steps are for the Combined Authority to continue to work with the Highways England regional team and the Department for Transport Roads Investment Strategy team to ensure the scheme is worked up to meet their technical criteria for assessment and funding. The Combined Authority Board agreed on Wednesday to make available £1 million of funding to bring the scheme to this standard. It is anticipated this funding will come from the Combined Authority’s £74 million allocation from the Transforming Cities Fund.
In parallel, the Combined Authority will explore with the DfT solutions for funding the design, development and consultation phase which will run 2019-2025 and is estimated to cost £60 million.
Highways England has already committed to dualling the 1.6-mile stretch of road from Wansford to Sutton, scheduled for winter 2021/22.
The A47 Dualling Study report can be viewed here via the agenda