Hoon offers fresh hope to A11 campaign

New transport secretary Geoff Hoon has given fresh hope to campaigners battling to dual the A11 after insisting that it was still on course for an early start.

New transport secretary Geoff Hoon has given fresh hope to campaigners battling to dual the A11 after insisting that it was still on course for an early start.

Fears were raised that the departure of Ruth Kelly from the Department for Transport could usher in a change of course in supporting in the scheme.

And a review of regional transport funding had also raised concerns that the scheme could slip back in the pecking order.

But with the government signalling that 'big ticket' infrastructure projects could hold the key to getting the country out of recession hopes are high that the scheme will get the nod.

Mr Hoon has written to the economic partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future stating that the government was still hopeful of bringing the scheme forward to a 2010 start date - if the £135m funding can be found.

The minister was responding to a letter sent by more than 100 firms urging the government to give the scheme the green light.

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More than 14,000 people have signed a Norfolk County Council petition supporting dualling of the final stretch of road between Thetford and Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills.

“The region has very clearly stated its strong preference for the A11 to be delivered at the earliest opportunity and work is progressing to keep that option open,” he said. “Officials in the department are now undertaking further work across the regional funding allocation (RFA) programme as a whole, to ensure that we have an affordable, deliverable roads programme in which we can all have confidence.

“I can assure you that taking time to consider the RFA programme carefully does not in any way hinder the progress of work on the A11 scheme which, subject to the funding decision, is still on course to achieve the timetable that you and the region clearly support.”

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, welcomed the letter.

“Given the government's clear desire to try and spend their way out of a recession and focus on the delivery of infrastructure projects, it certainly makes sense for the minister to support this,” he said.

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “I think the picture looks encouraging. If the government is looking for ready made public works schemes that will generate employment and stimulate the economy, then this seems to be perfect.”

John Fry, chairman of Shaping Norfolk's Future, said it was crucial to keep reminding the government how important the road scheme was for the economy of Norfolk and he was hoping to set up a meeting with ministers to make the case.

“Businesses are clear that the number one priority for Norfolk is the completion of the dualling of the A11,” he said. “In tough economic times getting the go ahead for this road scheme would be a significant boost to the region's economy."

Peter Barry, MD of Pasta Foods and president of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “While the Secretary of State's letter is supportive, it is not final, and we need to ensure that the business community in Norfolk continues to pressurise the Government to provide funding for an early start to the project, that is what the Chamber will do.”

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser said the minister's confirmation would be hugely encouraging to businesses and the community at a difficult and worrying time for all.