Former transport secretary Lord Adonis has described plans to toll part of a planned upgrade of the A14 in Cambridgeshire as “totally mad”.
Speaking at a briefing on infrastructure organised by consultant Arup and public relations firm Cicero, Adonis said the government’s plan to fund the £2.3bn scheme through tolls was fundamentally flawed.
“It is a back of an envelope scheme and totally mad,” he said. “Quite simply no-one has a clue how to toll an A-road in this country.”
The government said in July last year that an upgrade of around 30km of the A14 could be funded through tolling. This came after the £2.3bn publicly-funded scheme was scrapped in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review where it was described as “unaffordable in any future funding scenario”.
Since then the Department for Transport (DfT) has been working on alternatives to the previous scheme with local authorities and businesses through the A14 Challenge initiative. This work confirmed that funding could in part be raised by tolling a length of the enhanced A14, including around 30km of new or widened road.
But Adonis said the scheme had ground to a halt. “I have asked for a progress update [from the DfT] but haven’t got one. But that is no surprise as there hasn’t been any [progress].
Adonis cited the A14 scheme as an example of the impact stop-go decision making has on Britain’s infrastructure, saying that governments are “too gung ho” when it comes to cutting infrastructure projects.
He also spoke out against the poor planning that has afflicted infrastructure for decades.
“You cannot have planning without plans,” he said.
Adonis is currently working with Sir John Armitt on a Laboursponsored review of the government’s National Infrastructure Plan (NIP). Armitt has expressed the view that the NIP is “not a plan but a wish list of projects”.
The review is expected to recommend the establishment of some form of independent infrastructure commission to decide spending priorities. But Adonis warned that this may not be the right solution.
“John Armitt and I are working on plans that we may publish later this year if we think they’re good enough for an independent infrastructure commission,” he said.