Chancellor's roads and rail boost for the east

Train commuters Image copyright PA
Image caption The East West rail link received the go ahead in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement

"A dream come true for supporters of the project".

So says Milton Keynes MP, Iain Stewart, as the East West rail link finally gets the go ahead.

Plans will go ahead for the first phase of the link between Oxford and Bedford, in a surprise move by the government.

The announcement was made by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement with £25m earmarked to be spent of the project by the final year of this parliament in 2014/15.

"I had no idea," exclaimed a delighted Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South, who actually sits on the Transport Select Committee.

"I'm absolutely delighted. I'm thrilled that the Chancellor has seen the value of accelerating this project which will bring thousands of jobs to the region."

He raised the issue in a Westminster Hall debate only this month and was promised by the Transport Secretary, Theresa Villiers, then that "when there is an announcement to be made or progress to be announced, I will ensure that the right hon. gentleman is the first to hear about it".

But he wasn't...

No matter, he says, he simply believes that it's fantastic for a pipe dream to become reality on the silver anniversary of the campaign.

Road improvements

So, if you want to get in, out or around the east you may find life a little easier in the future thanks to the Chancellor's announcements in his so-called Autumn Statement.

We have a tranche of funding for roads and rail in the region, some of it with immediate effect, George Osborne told a packed chamber in the House of Commons.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The widely leaked plans for improvements to the A14 were confirmed by the Chancellor

The Conservatives had said they didn't want two budgets per year and planned to rein back November's statement - with growth plans only being announced in the spring budget but the dire state of the economy has changed all that.

The widely leaked plans for improvements to the A14 were confirmed. The road to nowhere will be improved between Huntingdon and Cambridge, and the Kettering bypass will get underway by 2013.

Conservative MP for Huntingdon, Jonathan Djanogli welcomed the news: "This is a really good day for Cambridgeshire and the east. It's excellent news.

"£20m is to go on junction works on the A14 immediately. It does say that actual proposals for tolling will be looked at and the Prime Minister wants pension funds to look at this.

"I do think we are going to see progress and that progress is needed urgently."

Commuter fares

The Lib Dem MP for Cambridge was not so positive about the idea of the A14 introducing tolls.

"I'm sceptical about whether a toll road is the way forward but I am very pleased with the £20m to improve the junctions which are very badly arranged, with motorists having to do 90 degree turns.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The proposed fuel duty rise scheduled for January is now cancelled

"I would also like to organise a breakdown service," he added.

In addition there's news of a new A43 dual carriageway link road, south east of Corby and the proposed fuel duty rise scheduled for January is now cancelled, although there will be a 3 pence rise in August.

Commuter fares also get assistance, with rises cut to the Retail Price Index plus a 1% rise.

So far so good but the headline figures from the independent forecasters, the Office of Budget Responsibility were dire, with growth flat lining over the next three quarters and the possibility of recession, a worrying one in three.

Against that deepening economic gloom families can expect living standards to drop; public sector workers will see pay rises frozen at 1%; retirement at 67 has been brought forward by a whole decade to 2026; and the government has signalled the end of national pay rates.

So some small comfort from the infrastructure investments but there is a long way to go before we are out of the woods.