MEPs call for rethink over funding to help reduce lorries on A14 in Northamptonshire

A14 roadworks complete
A14 roadworks complete

A decision not to provide EU funds for work which would shift freight from the A14 to rail has been criticised.

Conservative MEPs from East Anglia and the Midlands are challenging the European Commission for rejecting the funding bid.

They have written to Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc protesting over her department’s refusal to help fund a project to boost rail capacity between the massive container port at Felixstowe and both the East and West Midlands.

The proposal is designed to ease traffic on the regions’ roads – in particular the heavily-congested A14 which runs past Ipswich, Cambridge and Kettering right through to the M1 and M6 motorways near Rugby.

By removing bottlenecks on the relevant rail route, the scheme aims to create capacity for 18 more trains a day, each carrying up to 90 containers.

Engineering work would include removing level crossings and redoubling parts of the track, potentially taking 800,000 lorries off the roads each year.

It would cost more than £300m and Britain is seeking funding of some £86m on the basis that the scheme would boost freight transport right across the continent to the south of France.

The seven MEPs reminded Commissioner Bulc that her own officials’ assessments had strongly backed the scheme and found that if offered “highly positive economic result and a clear leverage effect of EU funding”.

They challenged the decision that the scheme did not offer enough “added value” at a European level to merit funding.

In particular, they rejected an assumption that funding should only promote transport schemes spanning land frontiers.

They argued that since Britain lacked land borders with most European states, rail links to her sea ports were the equivalent.

The letter said: “If the allocation of EU funds for corridor networks continue to prioritise land based cross border projects then this risks further isolation of the UK as island.

“There is no land border between the UK and other continental European Member States, therefore our maritime ports fulfil the same function as a cross border rail section between mainland European Member States.”

It was signed by East of England MEPs Vicky Ford, Geoffrey Van Orden and David Campbell Bannerman, East Midlands MEPs Emma McClarkin and Andrew Lewer, and West Midlands MEPs Anthea McIntyre and Daniel Dalton.

Now they are hoping the Commission will have a change of heart when a bid is resubmitted in six months’ time.

Without the funding it is understood elements of the scheme will go ahead on a more limited scale.

Mrs Ford said: “We are not asking for special treatment, just a fair recognition of the UK’s unique position as an island nation operating major trading links with Europe and the rest of the world.

“This scheme is good for our regions and good for the UK – but it is equally good for Europe as a whole.

“We hope this is just a miscalculation or a misjudgment that can soon be reconsidered.

“Getting such massive volumes of freight off our bury roads and onto the railways has to make sense.

“British taxpayers help fund the EU budget – we should get our fair share back.

“We have had success in bidding for EU grants on this line in the past and we want to be able to ensure that when we resubmit the bid it is successful.”