A study into fully dualling the A47 from Peterborough to Walton Highway, east of Wisbech, has found there is a strong case for upgrading the road to enable greater economic, housing and jobs growth as well as speeding up journey times.
Support is also now building across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough for the improvement, with North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay, Fenland District Council leader Councillor Chris Seaton and Peterborough City Council leader John Holdich adding their voices to calls to dual the road.
The report comes the day after a crash in which two people were killed on the current single carriageway stretch of road and 17 more were injured.
Following the major crash on Tuesday (June 26) on the A47 between Guyhirn and Thorney Toll, Mayor Palmer said: “Following the tragic road crash yesterday, it is right to mention the case for improving safety on the A47. The road is known for being very dangerous, a problem not helped by the fact that more than half of it is single carriageway.
“While we do not know the exact circumstances of yesterday’s crash, I think it is vitally important that the case for better safety is also made very clear in campaigning for upgrading this road.”
The report of the Strategic Outline Business Case is the first technical evidence that the scheme will bring significant benefits to people and the economy and was commissioned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. The report was approved by the Combined Authority Board on Wednesday (June 27) where members were asked to note its findings and agree to progressing the next phase of the scheme, which will include stakeholder consultation and narrowing down route options.
One of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer’s election pledges was to significantly upgrade the A47. He has also since lent his support to the A47 Alliance Just Dual It! campaign, backed by MPs, councils and funding bodies, where the ambition is to make the entire 115 miles of the route dual carriageway from the A1 at Peterborough to Lowestoft in Suffolk.
Mayor Palmer also wants the Combined Authority to work towards a much more ambitious timetable than would be the standard for a road project of this size. The aim is to provide a fully complete dualled scheme between the A16 junction east of Peterborough and Walton Highway in half the time of traditional delivery methods, accelerating the completion date from around 2033 to 2025-2027.
Mayor Palmer argues that the lack of investment in the A47 has been holding the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough back for too long and has previously said that it “beggars belief” that in the 21st Century two major urban areas in Peterborough and Norwich are connected by a road that is majority single carriageway. Currently less than half of the 115 miles are dualled.
Mayor Palmer said: “Dualling the A47 is not just crucial in powering forward the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, it is also vital for the northern part of East Anglia generally, a region which for too long has suffered a chronic lack of investment in transport infrastructure.
“We have an opportunity now to do something about it, and in a timescale that acknowledges the urgency of the situation. Our recent interim Independent Economic Review has suggested that the economies of the Peterborough and Fens area are performing much better than official government figures have suggested. But the report also pointed to the immediate challenges of improving transport links to ensure that this growth can continue.
“A case is emerging now that shows that every pound invested in upgrading this crucial artery will pay itself back many times over. As we analyse the benefits in more detail, it is looking like that case will only get stronger. I will be making that point strongly when I meet with Jim O’Sullivan, the Chief Executive of Highways England, next month, where I will be asking for support in how we can make our ambition a reality.
“This is not just a scheme that can be transformational for our area, it also fits in exactly with what the government is trying to do in terms of accelerating house building, sharing prosperity and boosting economic growth and productivity to all parts of the UK. This project has the ability to facilitate the Wisbech Garden Town, unlock many other housing developments as well as improving journey times and connectivity, which will boost the local economy and jobs. I believe we are ticking a lot of boxes of what central government wants to achieve, so I’m hopeful of support from Whitehall.
“I have been really impressed with how our friends over the border in Norfolk have driven the A47 Alliance campaign, and gathered county-wide support to really make their voices heard among the people that count in central government. That matters, because this road is ultimately the responsibility of Highways England and the Department for Transport, so we need to make sure we are banging on the door of Whitehall to get the funding it needs.
“It should be remembered that the A47 Alliance is about dualling the entire route from the A1 at Peterborough through to Lowestoft, and that’s why I’m very encouraged to see a united support building in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Roads do not stop at district or county lines, and nor to the benefits, and so if we have galvanised support up and down the route from MPs, council leaders, businesses and residents, we are much more likely to get the investment that we need.”
Steve Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, said: “The A47 is a key transport route for North Cambridgeshire and for the wider region given our important food and freight industries. Dualling the A47 makes clear economic sense and needs to be delivered as quickly as possible.”
Cllr Chris Seaton, leader of Fenland District Council said: “The dualling of the A47 is absolutely essential if our region’s potential is to be fulfilled.
“Our economy has been held back by poor connectively for far too long, and it’s time to maximise the opportunities we have to offer. The Strategic Outline Business Case shows there is a strong case for dualling of the road between Thorney and Walton Highway, and I hope this can be delivered as soon as possible.
“Not only will it improve transport links and complement other infrastructure priorities including the development of a new Wisbech Garden Town, it will also improve safety, lead to quicker and more reliable journeys, and crucially, bring much-needed investment into the area.”
Cllr John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council said: “The city of Peterborough is well known for its excellent transport links to the north, south and west, making it the ideal place to set up and run a business. We fully appreciate the benefits that accessible transport links can bring to an area and have benefited from this for many years.
“The dualling of the A47 from Peterborough through to Lowestoft will only increase this further and will form an important trade route to the east of the region, including the coast and ports. We are fully supportive of this scheme and the prosperity that this can only bring to Peterborough and the wider Eastern region.”
Cllr Martin Wilby, Chairman of the A47 Alliance, said: “The outline business case shows there are clear benefits to the region from dualling of this section of the A47. That only 47 per cent of this major route linking eastern counties with the Midlands is dualled is simply not good enough, and this report only adds further weight to our Just Dual It! campaign which is calling on the government to make funding available to dual the entire length of the A47 by 2030.”
The next phase of the scheme is the Options Appraisal Report (OAR), which will condense the suggested 12 route options for the scheme to a select few. This is being worked up alongside a revised Strategic Outline Business Case, which will better take into the account the latest data on growth predictions for the area, and is expected to strengthen the business case further. That is due to be completed in September to report to the Combined Authority Board the same month.
Once the OAR is complete, there will be a wide-ranging consultation which, with the OAR, will feed into an Outline Business Case for a specific dualling scheme along a defined route. The aim is to complete the Outline Business Case by the early part of 2019.
The Mayor is meeting with Highways England Chief Executive Jim O’Sullivan next month to raise the A47 directly, which will also include a discussion on funding for the project.
Highways England has already committed to making the A1 Wansford to Sutton section of the A47 into dual carriageway, as well as making improvements at the Guyhirn roundabout. But while Mayor Palmer has welcomed the commitment, he has said that more ambition is needed for the people of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in investing in the road.