East of England investment set for roads and railways

Deborah McGurran
Political editor, East of England

image captionDavid Cameron announces £500 million worth of investment in the A47

So important was the A47 announcement that the prime minister came to Norfolk on a wintry December morning to announce the pre-Autumn Statement giveaway.

"The green light is on from now, the money to do this job can start to be spent now," David Cameron told us.

Although the Department for Transport's own figures would appear to question the veracity of that statement - it is unquestionable that for more than 20 years politicians and business leaders have campaigned for the A47 to be improved. Now, it seems, their time has come.

The A47 which links Great Yarmouth with the Midlands is not the only road that struggles with congestion. There's £1.5bn in all to improve roads in this region.

As well as the £300m to be spent on the A47 around Peterborough, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, the A428 will be improved to create what the government calls "an expressway" between Cambridge, Bedford and Milton Keynes.

There will also be major improvements to the A12, which will become three lanes from Colchester to Chelmsford and roads around Stevenage, Dunstable and Harlow will be upgraded.

Mid Norfolk MP, George Freeman, welcomed the A47 announcement.

"It's £500m. It's the beginning of a major programme, putting this area on the map and recognising that we are leading the economic recovery," he said.

Empty promises?

Three stretches of the road will be dualled, we're told, with improvements for other sections like the notorious Acle Straight, together with other junctions along the route.

There's no actual start date for the work to begin and it can only be guaranteed if the Conservatives win the next election, but the PM denied the pledges were empty promises.

He admitted: "We can't simply bulldoze the road to build, you have to plan - but that can start right now and in the next parliament this dualling will begin."

That is, of course, unless the next government changes its mind.

The Department of Transport has already said that work on the improvements won't begin for several years and the timetable is subject to change - so don't hold your breath.

Although Labour called the announcement an election gimmick, it too has recognised the importance of improving the A47.

Now both main parties are saying they appreciate the significance of roads like these - they might stand a fighting chance whatever the outcome in May.


Rail campaigners are also happy with the government's commitment to improve the main line between Norwich and London.

The transport secretary Patrick McCloughlin had no new money to offer (although he said that there is a new fund for tackling delays which the line can apply for) but he gave his backing to the Great Eastern Taskforce's report.

It lists a series of improvements costing £470m which are needed within the next 10 years to enable faster services.

image captionTransport secretary Patrick McGloughlin (centre) met with the region's MPs to receive the Norwich in 90 report

"I am saying that we want to deliver this report and we want to make it possible for the Norwich in 90 campaign to be successful and it's not just Norwich it's the other areas on the line up to Norwich," said Mr McCloughlin.

He expects Network Rail to make provision in its next budget for improving the line. He also said that whoever takes over the franchise in 2016 will be required to provide new rolling stock.

Norwich in 90: Ipswich in 60

Chloe Smith, the MP for Norwich North, who has led the campaign, says the announcement, which will be confirmed in the Autumn Statement, is significant.

"We will see these improvements within about 10 years through a combination of what network rail has to do and what the next franchise will deliver," she said.

"What the chancellor has announced this week is his commitment to use the to use the money which is available through Network Rail and through the franchise to give us a better service in East Anglia."

image captionCampaigners hope to reduce the journey time from Norwich to London by at least 20 minutes

Campaigners say this is an achievement because five years ago the line wasn't on any list for funding, now it's being given priority.

But the reality is that the next government and the one after that will have to commit to spending serious money on the line and the new operator will have to fund and deliver new rolling stock.

"We have won the argument but there is still a lot to do" said Mark Pendlington of the New Anglia Enterprise Partnership.

"Our job now is to hold governments' and operators' feet to the fire, to ensure that they deliver"

Labour says it too is committed to improving the line but it also wants the public sector to be allowed to bid for rail franchises.

Although there are big questions over how soon we will see any improvements, these announcements are still significant because for many years there has been a feeling that this region is missing out when it comes to infrastructure spending.

These plans will go some way to assuage those fears.

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