Seal deal on A11 call

Ministers are being urged to give Norfolk the perfect Christmas present and seal the deal on dualling the A11 amid growing fears that the long-awaited road scheme could get derailed by a general election.

Ministers are being urged to give Norfolk the perfect Christmas present and seal the deal on dualling the A11 amid growing fears that the long-awaited road scheme could get derailed by a general election.

Norfolk is within touching distance of realising the goal of seeing a completely dualled road, with work all set to start next year on the final nine-mile stretch.

But last week a public inquiry into the proposal was delayed until January 25 to consider new traffic figures from the Highways Agency following a last minute objection by the Elvedon Estate, which supports the scheme but is opposed to proposals for the B1112 junction.

The delay has caused widespread dismay after supporters of the road believed they had cleared the way for the scheme to sail through the public inquiry stage after both the RSPB and Natural England withdrew their objections.

It has also left people scratching their heads about the motives of the Elvedon Estate, whose chairman Lord Iveagh is a board member of the East of England Development Agency which backs the scheme.

The EDP also understands that MPs have tried to lobby him personally to try to get him to change his mind amid fears that the Elvedon Estate has not realised the potential threat their objection could cause to the whole scheme.

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Now Norfolk County Council and the economic development partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future have written a joint letter to transport minister Sadiq Khan pressing him to stick to the 2010 start date, once the scheme gets through the inquiry stage.

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said there was a real fear that the scheme could now fall because of the general election.

“The Highways Agency are all set for an autumn start date for the A11 but the public inquiry has already delayed it for the best part of three months as figures produced by the Elvedon Estate is a major concern,” Mr Cox said.

“The last thing we want to do is see the proposed autumn start date slip into 2011 because I am sure there will be question marks by any incoming government as to funding the costs of the road.”

Work on the long-awaited dualling of the A11 and Elveden bypass, which is estimated to cost between �106m and �147m, is due to start at the end of next year, as long as the public inquiry gives it the go-ahead.

The letter re-stated the widespread support for dualling backed by a 16,000 strong petition of people in favour of the scheme and presses for the minister to make a prompt decision once the he receives the inspector's report.

“However, having secured support from the East of England Regional Assembly and the East of England Development Agency for the scheme to be advanced, and gaining approval from secretary of state for Transport Geoff Hoon for the start of work to be brought forward, there is frustration and concern that that the hoped-for start date in 2010 is now in danger of being missed as the general election draws closer,” the letter said. “We therefore seek reassurance that, having carefully considered the evidence he has heard, the Inspector be asked by your department for there to be no undue delay in completing his final report.

“Norwich is the largest city in the UK not connected directly to a motorway by dual carriageway and dualling of the A11 will help deliver future growth envisaged by the government for Norwich and Thetford,” the letter added.

“We cannot stress how important this issue is both to local residents and to the Norfolk economy and we hope you will do whatever you can to ensure this issue is resolved as speedily as possible, so that the wider economic benefits of the scheme which run to well over �600m over 60 years are realised as soon as possible.”

Mr Cox said that with all political parties likely to run the rule over spending after the general election, it was important to end the uncertainty over the fate of the scheme - but he believed that all political parties at Westminster realised the importance of the scheme, though there was no concrete commitment from the Conservatives to press ahead with it if they won the general election.

“I am sure MPs from across the region will still be lobbying very strongly for this,” he added. “We don't want to be in a period of uncertainty which could delay the start of the work when everybody is all set to go.”

“We were very fortunate during the Norwich North by-election campaign in having many members of the shadow cabinet come up and experience themselves the significant bottlenecks and congestion along that stretch.

“All of them are fully aware of the consequences of not dualling the A11 and the impact on the Norfolk economy.”

Lord Iveagh could not be contacted yesterday.