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20 September, 2013 - 10:42 By Tony Quested

Chamber sees if Eagle dares in infrastructure showdown

Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle

A Cambridge business influencer has set up a meeting with leading Labour figures, including the Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle, to press for a commitment to providing adequate infrastructure to support the region’s growth should there be a change of government at the next General Election.

Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce chief executive John Bridge told Business Weekly that much publicised improvements to the A14 is “far from a done deal” and says road improvements cannot be taken in isolation.

“Cambridge and the hinterland is undergoing unprecedented growth with new businesses moving in, the science & technology cluster expanding and new developments in the pipeline for homes and business parks. We need a co-ordinated, integrated structure at government level that addresses the infrastructure required to ensure this growth is sustainable. That means everything from roads to homes to provision of power, water and other facilities.”

Bridge fears that the Government’s plans to introduce tolling on the upgraded A14, is simply a way for Whitehall to introduce another stealth tax – to set a new principle that allows it to raise more money from motorists.

Bridge said: “The fuel escalator was supposedly introduced on environmental grounds and politicians received very few complaints about raising, what were in truth, general taxes in this way. Now there is much stronger opposition and this has limited the way the fuel escalator can be continued, leaving the government to look for new ways to increase taxation.

“All political parties are obsessed with not raising funds through direct taxation, leaving them to look for other tax-raising mechanisms such as tolls which they can introduce under the pretext that it’s for the benefit of road users. This is despite the fact that the Treasury currently raises over £50 billion in taxes from motorists and invests less than £10 billion per year across all forms of transport.

“However the Treasury doesn’t believe in hypothecation. All money other than potentially from tolls is used for general tax purposes, although we believe this will be offset against general funding. The argument that they need additional funds for the A14 is stretching the imagination in that it’s only going to raise approximately £25-30 million per annum, which is peanuts in relation to the cost of the overall scheme.

“We support the scheme and believe that those who depend on this route need to do the same, but we also ask the government to reconsider the concept of necessity for tolls. It is important for people to respond to the consultation and also ask the government to reconsider.

“The Government has pledged a commitment of £50billion plus to HS2 to create what it perceives as a rail infrastructure fit for the future to drive our economy and growth. What we also need is a road network fit for the future. As with HS2, our country deserves for an internationally-important route such as the A14 to be fully funded by government.

“We must have the A14 upgraded with or without tolls but it is important to strongly convey to government why we believe they should rethink the tolling of the A14.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Maria Eagle. Image courtesy: Ministry of Justice

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