Fiveways Bypass?

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On Friday, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP visited Suffolk where I met with him to talk primarily as Leader of the County Council and as Holder of the Economic Development brief, about the rail upgrades needed for the Port of Felixstowe to move more freight off the A14 and onto Rail and what increased traffic on the rail line they would mean for communities up and down the line.  More freight on the railways and we can open up the A14 route for economic growth and higher value jobs – all part of the Economic Growth Strategy for Suffolk.

I also took the opportunity to introduce my fellow Candidate Louis Busuttil for Mildenhall in 4th May elections, together we thanked him for the £400,000 to install Traffic Lights at Fiveways but stressed that this must be a stop gap to a new bypass to keep the traffic moving at this, the busiest spot in West Suffolk.  He entirely took on board what we were saying and said he has discussed this with Matt Hancock MP and was aware that Suffolk County Council, FHDC, the New Anglia LEP and our local communities have and will present a strong case to Government for the investment we need for the works.

In my role as Local Councillor and more recently as Leader of Suffolk County Council I have sat in many, many, meetings with Highways England about the dualling and the roundabout.  And have lobbied successive Transport Ministers about the importance of the investment in Fiveways and the need for that to continue. Thinking back, I have, in one form or another, been involved in the lobbying for the A11 dualling since 2005, firstly alongside the then MP Richard Spring, now Lord Risby, in that time we have seen it pushed back in favour of the Cambridge guided bus system winning £100M investment pot from the old East of England Regional Assembly.  Then we saw it scaled back from a grade separation junction, that’s a fly over to you and me, to what was eventually built and I have in that time argued and lost to see far more spending on it than was eventually achieved.  I use the roundabout just about twice a day almost every day of my life and always argued that if we could not have the grade separation then Traffic Lights would very quickly be needed.  Highways England disagreed but by working with the SCC Cabinet member for Highways and our Highways team at the County Council alongside James Waters the Leader of FHDC and Matt Hancock our MP we put pressure on Highways England to install the piping for Traffic Lights with SCC data that showed the lights would be needed far sooner than HE was predicting, glad we did as the installation will be a lot quicker and easier than if they had to dig up the roads.  The £400,000 for the next phase being Traffic lights, is a step in the right direction. But as I said to Chris Grayling it’s a ‘stop-gap’ not the long or medium term solution.

I also lobbied hard for the eventual changes in the Tuddenham cross over which again, I, like many others use almost daily.  I even arranged for the County Council to agree to pay for a speed camera to keep the speed of traffic going past the petrol station at 50 mph to give us all a safer crossing but Highways England have thus far refused.  Before, during and since the dualling of the last section to Thetford I lobbied for a grade separation at Fiveways and promised that once it was built I would lobby firstly for traffic lights which contrary to some people’s opinion are how you make sure that traffic is regulated onto a busy junction. And now lobby for the by-passing, this will take time, but with the County Council, FHDC, our MP and local community groups all pulling in the same direction we create a strong unified position to put to Ministers. And I did just that Friday, saying thank you to Chris Grayling for getting the traffic lights into the latest round of upgrades but stressing how important it was to now get a by-pass.

How important are these upgrades to Fiveways? – please take my survey.

http://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

A11 Fiveways roundabout to be closed

The approach to Fiveways Roundabout

The approach to Fiveways Roundabout

On Tuesday I went to a meeting with the Highways Agency (HA) in Thetford and fellow local County Councillors to discuss, well not discuss more be informed about the progress of the works to dual the last remaining single carriageway of the A11 to Norwich, the single biggest issue being the upgrade works on the big roundabout at the start of the works known as ‘Fiveways’, essentially the HA have decided in their wisdom to close the roundabout over three weekends in October, here is the .pdf link to the document detailing the plan.

http://assets.highways.gov.uk/roads/road-projects/a11-fiveways-to-thetford-improvement/s130131%20Fiveways_ThetfordFINAL.pdf

Last year right at the start of the project I recall sitting in a meeting with the HA at Endeavour House where I and my fellow County Councillors stressed the one thing they needed to make sure they did was keep the road open, as much as possible, during the course of construction to minimise the disruption to our communities and they assured us they would.

Of course we all very much welcomed the road dualling, we all appreciate that some disruption is inevitable, but we felt that if the traffic is keep flowing it would cause the minimum disruption to our communities and that point seemed to be taken on board, they made comment that overnight at moments of cross over from one section to another the road would have to be closed and we all entirely understood that.

So at Tuesday’s meeting you can imagine my disappointment, which I voiced, asking why last year they thought they could do the work and keep the road open and this year they said they could not? Was it possible to keep the road open? Or was it about a decision not to spend the money? I was politely told that it would take longer and only one lane would be in operation, both of which I said would be acceptable, but like a seasoned politician the HA Project manager politely ducked the cost question and moved on.

Clearly the works could be done and the road remain open, a simply section of temporary roadway across the middle of the roundabout would have ensured that, yes more cost but the road would have keep open.

This leads us onto the role of local government, if this was a County project, and many of us believe that democratic accountability is precisely what is needed in the vast monolith that is the Highways Agency, then our wishes on behalf of our communities to keep the roadway open throughout its construction would have made that happened. Of course the reply to this perennial question is that they report to a Government Minister thus are democratically accountable but in truth they make decisions with no reference to democratically elected anyone.

Simply put if Suffolk had been in charge and we had said we want the road to stay open then they would have designed a scheme of works that would have done precisely that.

I suspect for all the publicity when the roundabout closes on those first two of the three weekends in October traffic chaos and grid lock in Worlington, Mildenhall, Eriswell, Beck Row and Lakenheath may well occur and then my post bag with be full of complaints because ‘surely the county is in charge of the roads’, when in reality because its Highways Agency we seemly have no influence at all.

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