Peter Aldous joins regional MPs to back case for investment in A47 upgrade

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) on securing this important debate. Its timing is opportune, as the A47 corridor feasibility study being carried out by the Department for Transport is now at the stage of identifying the range of infrastructure proposals that are required to address the problems that occur along the corridor.
Although the A47 currently runs from Peterborough to Great Yarmouth, the study also includes the part of the A12 that runs from Great Yarmouth to the south side of Lake Lothing in Lowestoft in my constituency. I very much welcome that, as it presents the opportunity to provide a high-quality road to Lowestoft and the Waveney area, which can play a vital role in attracting business and jobs. In due course, I hope that the A47 will run right into the heart of Lowestoft, so as to put the town well and truly on the national road map.
At present, the poor quality and unreliability of the A47 means that it is not the gateway to growth that it should be. Its reliability is adversely affected by collisions and disruptions, often on the single carriageway sections. There are a number of pinch points that cause congestion, deterring business and costing it dear. Those include the Bascule bridge in Lowestoft, the Gapton Hall roundabout in Great Yarmouth and the Hardwick roundabout in King’s Lynn.
One of the most significant challenges that the nation faces today is rebalancing the economy. Investment in infrastructure such as roads has a key role to play in that task. Around the world, an increasing amount of trade and wealth is concentrated in a small number of major cities. In the United Kingdom, we have London, and although it is very good news that we do, that, in itself, presents a challenge—the need to ensure that economic activity is not concentrated in one small part of the country for the benefit of the few. A properly functioning strategic road network has an important role to play to ensure that the regions of the UK perform to their full economic potential. The A47 can do that for the economies of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.
As a region, East Anglia is the second largest contributor to the Treasury after London and the south-east. However, this is no time for resting on our laurels, as with the right investment, the region can contribute even more in such key industries as food, tourism and energy. East Anglia is set to play the leading role in supplying the country’s energy needs, not only keeping the lights on, but providing new and exciting jobs. The working life of Sizewell B has been extended, and there are new-build proposals at Sizewell C. The southern North sea gas basin is still in full production with 150 working platforms, and the world’s largest offshore wind farms will be built off the East Anglian coast. To make the most of those opportunities, we need not only good infrastructure, but a strategic approach towards its provision.
I turn to what is being done by national and local government. Last year, the Government published “Investing in Britain’s future”, and they have now followed that up with “Action for Roads”, which sets out a national investment strategy. As part of that strategy, six feasibility studies of major roads, including the A47, are now being carried out. Once those studies have been completed, the Government will publish their road investment strategy later this year.
That strategic approach is very much to be welcomed, as it is important that investment is pinpointed and targeted, and not scattergun. To be effective, individual improvements to the road network must take place in a strategic framework and not in a vacuum. That national work provides the framework in which Suffolk county council, Waveney district council and the New Anglia local enterprise partnership are working up their road improvement plans in the Lowestoft transport and infrastructure prospectus and the options appraisal for a new crossing of Lake Lothing, which is currently being carried out. Those much needed local projects are vital component parts of a regional and national strategy that will ensure that investment in our roads yields the best possible return, in terms of added value to the economy and the creation of new jobs.
Now that the upgrading of the A11 from Norwich to the M11 is almost complete, it is appropriate to turn attention to improving the A47; the road that links Waveney, Norfolk and northern Cambridgeshire to the midlands and the north. The upgrading of the A47 can bring similar economic benefits to the northern part of East Anglia that the A14 has brought to the south. It can provide a boost to ports on its route—Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn—in much the same way as the haven ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich have benefited over the past 35 years from the upgrading of the A14.
The A47 can be a strategic route, linking Europe through East Anglia to the midlands and the north. It is already part of the trans-European network and if it is upgraded, it will provide better connections both to Europe and around the world, not only through those three ports, but through Norwich international airport. It will help attract business from outside the UK, providing vital inward investment.
An improved road is vital if those ports are to flourish. It should be remembered that the poor quality of the A47 was one reason why Norfolkline and Maersk relocated from Great Yarmouth to Felixstowe two decades ago. As I mentioned, industries that will benefit from an upgraded A47 are energy, food and tourism, and it could also lead to an expansion of the distribution and logistics industry in the same way as the A14 has generated such activity along its corridor from Felixstowe to Kettering.
Why invest in the A47? There are three good reasons: the compelling business case; the absence of significant environmental obstacles; and a united front of business and political leaders in the three counties supporting the campaign, backed by the Eastern Daily Press newspaper.
That upgrading should include improving important links. There is the link between the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, which is vital as so much of the business in the two towns is interconnected. There is the link to Norwich and its airport; the latter can perform the same role for our region as the airport at Aberdeen plays for north-east Scotland. There is the link to the recently upgraded A11, providing improved access to London and the south-east. There is also the link to the north and the midlands via the A1, providing better connections for East Anglia’s energy businesses to companies in their supply chains in those regions.
Good roads are vital if Lowestoft is to realise its full economic potential. The town needs not only good connections to the rest of the country, but a road network around the town that operates properly. The current congestion is an obstacle to growth.
If Lowestoft is to attract significant inward investment, it is vital that it is on the strategic national road network. Good roads to the town will complement the important initiatives that have been put in place in the past two to three years. Those include the enterprise zone, centre for offshore renewable engineering status for the ports of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and most recently, the inclusion of parts of the two towns on the assisted areas map for 2014 to 2020. Without good road links, Lowestoft and Yarmouth risk being marooned at the end of the line, and those initiatives will not realise their full potential.
The poor transport infrastructure to the port of Lowestoft and Lake Lothing are holding back considerable potential for creating new jobs. Research recently carried out by Mott MacDonald concludes that a new crossing of Lake Lothing and the upgrading of Denmark road will result in sites being developed more quickly, the creation of a significant number of additional jobs and the generation of £103 million of gross value added per annum. Those assessments take no account of the significant spin-off benefits that will accrue to supply chain businesses.
It is vital important that a clear commitment is provided at the outset to dual the A47 across its entire length from Lowestoft to Peterborough. Full dualling will improve the road’s safety and reliability, reduce travel times and bring significant economic benefits to the area. A patchwork of improvements tackling specific bottlenecks, though welcome, may well bring its own problems, creating new congestion and safety blackspots. Those may well be where sections of dualling come to a seemingly abrupt end. Although I accept that the work will need to be done in phases, the announcement this autumn of a commitment to fully dual the A47 will bring a major boost to investment and regeneration.
I started my working life in Norwich in 1983. At that time, there was one small section of dual carriageway in Norfolk, at Cringleford on the A11 on the outskirts of the city. Just over 30 years later, the full dualling of the A11 from Norwich to the A14 is finally almost complete. I urge the Minister and the Government to do all they can to ensure that the A47 is dualled in a far shorter period.
The Government’s approach to rebalancing the economy and revitalising the regions is the right one. I am referring to the creation of LEPs, initiatives such as enterprise zones and investment in infrastructure: broadband, rail and roads. The Government are right to pursue a strategic approach towards upgrading the national road network. The case for the A47 is compelling. Now is the time to be bold and to set out an ambitious vision that will produce a huge dividend in terms of inward investment, increased prosperity and jobs for East Anglia.

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

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