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Mr. Djanogly: Will the Minister give way?
9 Feb 2005 : Column 1632
One reason why the delay has occurred is that we have listened to local residents and are examining the alternatives. The alternative proposal would retain the existing A14 past Huntingdon operating as a dual carriageway trunk road with a new route from Fenstanton to Ellington as a two-lane dual carriageway. The net effect would be to provide four lanes in total in each direction, instead of the three provided by the CHUMMS option.
An initial examination of the alternative proposal has concluded that it is essential that its merits and impacts are fully and properly assessed. At an early stage, CHUMMS assumed that the existing A14 past Huntingdon would carry local traffic only. I believe that it is important that work at this stage is carried out in sufficient detail to enable the proposals put forward for public consultation to be robust and to minimise the risk of lengthier delays to the scheme later in its programme. Public consultation on proposals for the scheme has therefore been put back a little to allow the Highways Agency time to consider the alternative.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) has also attended this debate and also takes an interest in that stretch of road. Her representations to my Department have been constructive, however, and instead of taking the churlish approach adopted by Conservative Members, she has been helpful.
We expect the consultation to start in spring 2005. There has been a great deal of media coverage about the delay to the scheme. When the scheme was added to the targeted programme of improvements, the Highways Agency aimed to start work in 200809. That will be difficult to achieve, but the agency has confirmed that it may still be possible. The scheme has not been delayed by the spending review announcement and was always scheduled for delivery in 2008 onwards.
I am glad that we have had time to expose some of the arguments. Anybody reading the Hansard report of the debate will reflect on the remarks made by Conservative Membersbut were they in office, this debate would not need to take place because that road would not be being improved at all, and I am glad to have had an opportunity to put that point on the record.