Time running out for A47 deadline

Fresh hopes that EU cash could kickstart plans to dual the A47 were raised yesterday - but only if ministers are willing to bid by the end of this month.

Fresh hopes that EU cash could kickstart plans to dual the A47 were raised yesterday - but only if ministers are willing to bid by the end of this month.

Tory Euro MP Robert Sturdy is urging the government to tap into an additional Brussels funding to help get the road upgraded after learning from talks with EU commissioners that there was cash available - all be it from a smaller pot.

In January it was revealed how Eurocrats quietly stripped the vital east-west link of its status as a major European because lack of support from the UK government meant dualling would not be completed before 2020.

Last night it appeared the government was still steering clear of the issue - insisting the road was a regional priority and it was down to regional authorities such as the East of England Development Agency to make the case for EU cash not Whitehall.

However, Mr Sturdy said he was told during a recent Strasbourg meeting with European Transport Commissioner, Jacques Barrot, that cash could be available for the A47 dualling if it could attract cash from either the private of public sector. And he said the commissioner has pledged to raise the issue with the UK government.

“He wants to see the best road networks developed in the EU and offered very helpful advice,” said Mr Sturdy. “This funding opportunity he mentioned now needs to be looked at and exploited.

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“With pressure from Europe, alongside that from British MPs and groups such as the A47 Alliance, hopefully our government will give the A47 the attention and funding it so desperately needs.

“The government has bungled this desperately needed section of dualling which could hamper future regeneration and development plans across the Eastern Region.”

Work to upgrade the stretch between Blofield and North Burlingham is pencilled in to start between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

Mr Sturdy is pressing ministers to reveal why they have classified the road as a regional trunk road rather than one of national importance - and said so far his inquiries have drawn a blank.

“I felt it was crucial that the commissioner knew about the grave concerns felt in the Eastern Region, that the road was unlikely to be dualled before 2020. I briefed him about the much needed development at Yarmouth Harbour which is vital for the region's economy, and the need to have the proper infrastructure in place to ensure it runs efficiently.

“I told him about the rising number of fatalities on this dangerous road, and how important it was that the A47 should be included as a priority axis, that rural economies were suffering as a result of inadequate roads.”

While the A14 is to get receive £63m of funding between 2007/13 after being classed as a major European trunk route Mr Sturdy said the commissioner told him he was genuinely surprised at the lack of dual carriageway on the A47.

Alternative funding was available under annual funding schemes by the EU if applied for by 20 June 2008. However this budget was less than that for major European routes.

“I am very much aware that the June deadline is approaching fast and that these applications take time. I will be personally following this up with the government and local authorities to find out if any application has been made or is being planned.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The A47 is categorised as a route of regional importance. Therefore in the first instance it is for the region to present any bid for funding to the Department for Transport to take forward.”