Home Page Transport meeting highlighted difficulties in getting consensus on a new road 22/03/14

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

Few subjects in the Haverhill area are as contentious as the road to Cambridge, from the days when it was the A604 up to the present A1307, downgraded for some bizarre reason some years ago by Cambridgeshire County Council officers who, we gather, were barely aware of where it was, let alone how busy.


They were only following in the footsteps of Essex County Council who, back in the 1970s downgraded the then A604 to Colchester from being a major route, thus avoiding the necessity of eventually bypassing some of its villages and straightening some of its hairpins.


Cambridgeshire had tried to resist by improving bits of the road in their area, but once Essex had doomed it to being a cul-de-sac at Haverhill, that was all rather a lost cause, so since 1982 they have done only the most basic and minimal traffic management work on it, despite its hefty accident record.


It seems that, as well as removing the railway in the 1960s, the authorities were conspiring to write Haverhill off the map altogether.


The results of this were outlined last night by Haverhill’s MP Matthew Hancock at a special public meeting he had called about the town’s transport links to Cambridge and beyond.


For the first time in public we saw influential Cambridgeshire and Suffolk councillors in the same room, impressing on us how hard they were working together – at last, about 30 years too late.


There were around 70 people in the room, so a wide variety of views were expressed, from the desperate pleas of village residents not to allow Haverhill to grow at all because of the lack of infrastructure, to the rather more realistic demand that infrastructure be created to serve an inevitable and continuing expansion.


More radical ideas surfaced – including a call for a road from Haverhill to the M11 at Stumps Cross to relieve the A1307 of at least a proportion of its users up to Four Went Ways. So Essex might still have to be brought into the discussion.


The nearest thing to a concrete idea brought to the meeting was the latest proposal to dual the A1307 from Haverhill to the A11, getting around the problem of Linton by building a new road altogether along the line of the Roman Road. This would benefit villages like Withersfield and West Wratting because that is pretty much where their traffic is heading on its way to Cambridge Science Park.


However, the whole idea of improving the A1307 is not palatable to many in Horseheath, the Camps, Linton, Abington and so on. The route will be incredibly difficult to identify without upsetting someone.


It looks like such a scheme will cost around £80million, we were told – I’m guessing that’s a bit of a stab in the dark because no one really knows – and even with the City Deal for Cambridge announced in the Budget, and the Government money funnelled via the two local enterprise partnerships, Greater Cambridge and Peterborough LEP and New Anglia LEP, there still wouldn’t be enough, they told us.


Mr Hancock recognised that was where he could help by pestering Government for more, but he has to have a worked-up plan, which local people are pretty much agreed upon, to present. Hence his efforts to listen to everyone’s view.


It is clear that however much the public are interested in this issue, and however much they are frustrated by the traffic jams on the A1307, which are now to be analysed in detail by Cambridgeshire, part-funded by Suffolk (just look how we are working together!), in the end the main driver of all this is the needs of business.


We were told that, if there were such a road, businesses would be flocking to the town, nay hammering on our doors. Even the promise of such a road might have the desired effect as businesses try to get in early while land is cheap, incidentally making the A1307 a whole lot worse before it gets better – and that’s without the 3,500 new homes in Haverhill.


We were told that a guided bus, put forward in the wake of the eventual, but costly, success of the St Ives to Cambridge link, would be no good to businesses, because Haverhill is an exporting town and needs big roads for big lorries. No one who travels the road is unaware of the effect of Culina, which may be just a harbinger of what is to come.


For all the laudable efforts of members of the public on all sides to try to isolate the different threads in the argument – the conservation of the Ancient Monument which is the Roman Road, the problem of traffic pollution in villages, the poor access to the south from Haverhill, the difficulties of all debouching into Cambridge itself and so on and so on – no one really nailed the fact that may be, just may be, the needs and wishes of business and of the public in general are not identical.


A guided bus would be a possible solution for a large number of those present last night. A railway would be even better. I still wait for anyone to come up with a comparative costing for these alternatives, so we can make a better judgement.


A new dual carriageway road is going to be far, far more devastating in the countryside than a railway, and a lot bigger, taking more land. If the experience of the A1307 is anything to go by, having junctions along it for the village roads just makes it more dangerous, so presumably it would need as many, or nearly as many, bridges – and bigger ones.


And it would just get you to the A11, so where do you go from there? Newmarket? Then back down the A14? A similar length of railway would get you into the main network at Shelford – and much of the route through the countryside is actually there already.


Furthermore, if a railway was well used – and every indication is that it would be – the road could, with very little improvement, become a much more open artery for all those big lorries which business wants to put on it.


David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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