Positive step towards full A11 dualling

Norfolk could have a fully dualled link to London within four years - thanks to a £19.5m underspend in the East of England's road schemes - if regional leaders can agree.

Norfolk could have a fully dualled link to London within four years - thanks to a £19.5m underspend in the East of England's road schemes - if regional leaders can agree.

That was the tantalising prospect raised by MPs Charles Clarke and Richard Spring yesterday after meeting officials from the regional assembly, Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, Forest Heath district council, and the East of England Development Agency (Eeda).

Currently, funding to dual the nine- mile Fiveways to Thetford stretch is pencilled in for 2012/13.

Last month the two MPs were buoyed by indications that transport secretary Ruth Kelly would look favourably at bringing the start date forward to 2010 if given a clear run by regional bodies such as the East of England Regional Assembly.

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Supporters of the A11 are vying for top spot ahead of the A5-M1 link road, the so-called Dunstable northern bypass.

While Eeda is definitely in the A11 'yes' camp, because of the £600m boost dualling would bring to the region's economy, much will now depend on the outcome of two meetings - the regional transport forum on June 13 and the assembly's key regional planning panel on July 8, which will be asked to approve recommending the A11 as the top priority.

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The aim of the Westminster session was to get everybody singing from the same hymn sheet to get the scheme underway by 2010.

With construction expected to last two years, that could see motorists driving along a completely dualled road by 2012.

So far the assembly is sitting on the fence - a letter sent on May 28 from Brian Stewart, assembly chief executive, to the Department for Transport, said both schemes were “unfinished business” from the previous regional funding round and needed to be “progressed as a matter of urgency”.

While the assembly “strongly supports the department authorising the Highways Agency to publish the draft orders for the (A11) scheme this summer and, if necessary to commit to a public inquiry” much would hinge on a consultant's report detailing the final costs.

Mr Clarke said there was agreement for all sides to work together.

“It was a constructive meeting and there was a good deal of commitment to work together. Hopefully we can bring it forward,” he said.

Mr Spring said: “I think there is a real determination to get this sorted out once and for all.”

Mike Jackson, director of planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said there were suggestions the Dunstable scheme was slipping back because of its link to the ongoing widening of the M1.

“Clearly there are a number of hurdles to clear,” he said. “It's an important step but there are more steps to go and we have got to keep up the pressure.

“Both these organisations confirmed that the A11 is one of the highest priorities for the region and everyone wants this to happen as soon as possible.”

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