Monday, 3 March 2014

A14 Upgrade: County Councillors Briefing (With Comments)

In early March the Highways Agency briefed County Councillors on the current state of the A14 upgrade project following the latest piece of news that everyone universally welcomed; the end of the proposal for the scheme to include tolling.

This post is a summary of the briefing and includes some comments/ observations.

The presentation started with a brief overview of the scope of the presentation. This covered five areas;

  1. The Need For The Scheme
  2. What Is Proposed
  3. The Outcomes Of The Options Consultation
  4. Design Development
  5. Development Consent Order (DCO) Process
The first part, the Need for the Scheme, basically centered on how critical the stretch of road between Ipswich/ Norwich in the East, Birmingham, Manchester, and Holyhead in Wales to the West, and (of course) London and Folkestone to the South.

Joining up East and West is the A14;

The next step of the presentation covered the Aims and Objectives for the scheme. This was based around five areas;
  1. Relieve Congestion
  2. Unlock Growth
  3. Connect People
  4. Improve Safety
  5. Leave A Positive Legacy
As anyone who, like me, hits the Girton Interchange at around 8am weekday mornings can attest to congestion is a real problem on the A14. Think of all the time spent waiting in traffic each day, this is time that could be spent with families, spent getting more work done, just generally spent anywhere else and you can quickly see that even a modest 10% reduction in congestion will have a significant impact in people's lives. 

Looking next at "Improve Safety" again this is an important issue. Barely a week seems to go by without there being a significant accident affecting one section or another of the road. If you look at the accident data you'll see that there are two significant blackspots; Spittals and Girton.

I would suggest that if you successfully improve safety and relieve congestion then the other three aims and objectives; Unlock growth, connect people, and leave a positive legacy. I wonder how they plan to measure the objective "Connect people"?

The presentation them moved on to exactly what is being proposed. Again five points;
  1. 1.5 Billion Scheme
  2. Approximately 25 Miles In Length
  3. Improvement To A14 Between Ellington and Milton
  4. A1 Widening Between Brampton and Alconbury
  5. Construction to Start By End 2016
And this was the proposal:

This scheme seems to bear a very close resemblance to the ones discussed previously. For us here in Bar Hill the key changes are the North and South "Local Roads" (North West of Dry Drayton, South between Dry Drayton and Girton). The improvements to the A14 around Bar Hill fall into "Element 2" of the plan.

The next stage of the presentation was the result of the consultation process. As a quick reminder here were the options;
Only Option 6 (which would have been a complete and total disaster for Bar Hill - it offered no relief from the influx of traffic from Northstowe amongst other things) would have significantly changed the proposals here in Bar Hill.

Not surprisingly the public response to the consultation was huge and centered around the desperate need for the scheme to relieve congestion and concern over the proposed tolling (although that was something that has since been removed from the scheme). There was extensive support (including Financial) for something to be done by local Councils.

The route to the east of Swavesey was less contentious, there were mixed views regarding the removal of the Huntingdon viaduct and the de-trunking of the A14, the idea of separation of local and strategic traffic was liked, concern was expressed for the impact on Ouse valley, and a general request was made (including by Bar Hill Parish Council if I recall correctly) for more detail on traffic modelling prior to progression to the next stage.

The good news regarding the traffic modelling is that, as you may have noticed, monitors have been installed at the A14 junctions in Bar Hill (as well as along Huntingdon Road in Girton). I'm sure this data will be made available in due course.

The presentation then moved on to more detail on the new scheme;

The bottom image shows more detail on the changes around Bar Hill.
The Stage 1 draft evidence reports for the scheme have been circulated to key stakeholders with the final report to be published at Easter. Stage 2 will then kick in with solution identification by march 2015.

The current plan is for the Highways Agency to work closely with Local Authorities and to engage early with key stateholders. Sometime this month there will be interactive engagement with local groups and interest groups as well as with Parish and Town Councils.

There will also be an Environment stakeholder forum.

The next part of the presentation covered the Development Consent Order (DCO) process. For those not aware (I wasn't) this is a new planning system designed for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects as part of the Planning Act 2008. Basically the secretary of state makes the decision on DCOs - this, it is hoped, will accelerate the delivery process.

The plan is to submit the DCO in October 2014 (the final design will be developed from June) - this gives you some idea of the very tight timeframe the project is working to. There is a risk, in my view, that pressure to deliver the project will cause less notice to be taken of the results of the formal 10 week consultation that begins in April.

The project milestones are;
  • Examination process (Feb-Aug 2015)
  • Secretary of State Decision (Feb 2016)
  • Start of Works (Dec 2016)
  • Open to Traffic (Dec 2019)
The current state of the project is that the consultation was submitted on the 7th February.

And finally the presentation talked about the A14 legacy; Encouraging non-motorised road users & public transport, supporting local employment and skills development, regeneration of Huntingdon town centre, supporting business development, green infrastructure, and community initiatives.

The presentation ended with a brief Q&A.

If you want the original slides they're available here (via Google Drive).