A11 roundabout 'not ideal' admit planners

Rob Garratt The Highways Agency has been accused of cutting corners in their proposals to dual the final stretch of the A11.

Rob Garratt

The Highways Agency has been accused of cutting corners in their proposals to dual the final stretch of the A11.

Government transport bosses admitted plans to upgrade the section of road between Thetford and Barton Mills were “not ideal” but dismissed spending more cash on the road.

Yesterday objectors to the plans appealed to the agency to reconsider the scheme, calling for a bypass of the notoriously busy Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills, at an ongoing public inquiry into the plans to improve the nine-mile stretch of road.

They are in favour of the proposed dual carriageway but said without a bypass the four lanes would just serve to make the roundabout busier and delay traffic using the widened road.

Giving evidence, Andrew Merritt, transport planner for the scheme, admitted a bypass would be the “optimum solution” for the scheme.

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But he said a bypass would add an extra �50m to �80m to the total cost, and was therefore unfeasible, prompting the objectors to accuse the agency of “penny-pinching.”

The alternative bypass solution was put forward by Peter Sturgeon, who introduced his case at the inquiry on Wednesday.

Yesterday three individuals gave evidence in support of the plans. Paul Reynolds, a journalist who lives in London but has used the A11 regularly for 40 years, said: “It seems to me cost is driving this whole thing.

“This scheme is not ambitious enough. It does not complete the dualing because it leaves the Fiveways in the way of what is a principle route - roundabouts have their place but you should not litter your highways with them.

“There should be no barrier to a bypass - it might cost more but it will do more.”

David Wheeler, who worked in the motorcar industry for 60 years, added: “The Fiveways will not be able to cope. It will do nothing to reduce congestion in rush hour, weekends and the holiday season.”

But the inquiry, hosted at Elveden Village Hall, heard that a cost-benefit calculation gave the Highways Agency scheme a rating of 22, while the alternative bypass scheme would rate 15.

The agency said the junction was capable of coping with projected traffic flow until 2028, and that traffic lights could be brought in at that stage to regulate the junction. It was also explained that EU regulations restricted them from causing environmental damage building a new road when the proposed scheme was seen as adequate.

Mr Merritt said: “We're not in that position right now. The current solution will operate until 2028 and you can't design for 30 years away.

“You can't cater for all levels of traffic flow because that is not a good use of public money.”

The third day of the inquiry also head about two other alternative proposals to create a flyover at the junction, which the Highways Agency rejected because they would lead to an increased risk of accidents, as well costing more and requiring more land. The proposed scheme already requires the government to purchase 176 hectares of land.

The inquiry, chaired by government planning inspector Neil Taylor, opened on Tuesday with the Highways Agency stating their case for the strategic benefits of the road.

On Wednesday Mr Taylor heard from business leaders that the road was essential for the economic vitality of the county, with statements of support from Norfolk and Suffolk County Council, Shaping Norfolk's Future, Norfolk Chamber of Commence and Industry and Gateway A11 East.

Two further objectors to the scheme are set to speak next week, including major landowner the Elveden Estate who will introduce another alternative to the plans.

The inquiry has now been adjourned until Tuesday, when it will start with a site visit by the inspector, with the formal inquiry resuming at 3pm. It is expected to close next Friday after both parties have summed up their case.

t For full reports of the inquiry, see next week's EDP and www.edp24.co.uk.