Transport is 'key to success', candidates argue

Transport is key to the success of the Cambridgeshire economy, candidates in the local elections have said.

The elections for Cambridgeshire County Council take place on 2 May and 69 seats are being contested.

At dissolution, the council was made up of 39 Conservatives, 21 Liberal Democrats, three Labour, three independents, two members of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and one Green.

Cambridgeshire is home to what has been dubbed Silicon Fen, a cluster of hi-tech companies near Cambridge and often connected to its university.

One of the key issues for business is the A14 with many firms calling for its expansion.

'Stimulating economy'

The A14 links the country's largest container port in Felixstowe, Suffolk, with the M1 and M6 motorways via Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

A Labour-backed £1.1bn plan to widen the road between Cambridge and Huntingdon was dropped by the coalition government for being too expensive.

But in February this year Cambridgeshire County Council started new discussions on the scheme, which could include a tolled bypass.

Nick Clarke, leader of the the ruling Conservative group, said: "We have been focused on stimulating the economy. We have been active spending £20m on super-fast broadband and we have brought the A14 (expansion) back on the table.

"Transport links are extremely important. Last year we voted through an additional £90m to spend on roads, footpaths and infrastructure."

He said the council had also helped set up a community bank to provide loans to small and medium-sized businesses.

Kilian Bourke, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: "While the Conservatives talk of being 'open for business', they neglect the services a council is meant to provide to its citizens and residents.

Image caption Plans have been put forward for a new tolled A14 bypass at Huntingdon

"Liberal Democrats believe that the key economic role of local government in a knowledge economy like ours is to maintain and enhance quality of life. To this end we would provide basic services well, better maintaining our schools and pavements and addressing the major shortage of nursery places.

"We support the need for an A14 upgrade but would seek to negotiate a less costly scheme for local taxpayers that prioritised the Huntingdon Bypass, the Girton Interchange and safety at the junctions, instead of massively increasingly capacity."

Paul Sales, leader of the Labour group, said: "Improvements to the A14 are really important. This is a major issue to improve the economy of outlying areas.

"But a toll road is not acceptable. Local people pay taxes, they shouldn't pay for it twice.

"Also we need to improve the rail links - such as reopening the Oxford to Cambridge link. It is so crucial as so much work goes on between Oxford and Cambridge."

'Foreign lorry tax'

Peter Reeve, leader of the UKIP group, said in Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, where UKIP took control of the town council in 2011, the party had helped people set up small businesses with the provision of office space. He said this could be rolled out across the county.

"When you see what we have done in places like Ramsey, everything we are doing can be scaled up," he said.

Mr Reeve backed the need to expand the A14, but rejected a general toll, saying it could be paid for by charging foreign lorry drivers who use the road.

Simon Sedgewick-Jell, a Green Party councillor, said he wanted the council to help boost the economy by "putting money towards home insulation and new transport schemes - providing employment which is environmentally sound".

He said with any proposed development, the needs of cyclists and pedestrians must be considered on an equal footing with the needs of motorists.

Mr Sedgewick-Jell said he was concerned at any expansion of roads as it would "encourage more road transportation".

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