Major players set out their case for A11 dualling

Adam Gretton A fully dualled road between Norwich and London moved a step closer to reality after it emerged there will be more supporters than objectors at the A11 public inquiry.

Adam Gretton

A fully dualled road between Norwich and London moved a step closer to reality after it emerged there will be more supporters than objectors at the A11 public inquiry.

The complete upgrade of the trunk road has been talked about in Westminster and local council chambers for almost 40 years and would help unlock Norfolk's economic potential and improve safety.

The EDP can today reveal that only six objectors stand in the way of the dualling of the A11, between Thetford and Barton Mills, on the eve of a public inquiry.

The nine-mile road scheme took another significant step forward at the weekend after the Highways Agency announced the contractor for the design and construction of the project, which is scheduled to start next year.

It comes as a posse of political and business leaders from across Norfolk and Suffolk are set to descend on the public inquiry this week to provide evidence in favour of the A11 upgrade, which they say would represent a �600m economic boost to the region over the next 60 years.

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And following the withdrawal of the RSPB and Natural England's concerns about the impact on the protected stone curlew, only five individuals and a major landowner, the Elveden Estate, remain as objectors to the scheme. Officials from the 23,000-acre estate, owned by Lord Iveagh, have expressed their support for the dualling scheme, but lodged opposition to the proposals for the B1112 junction.

Other objectors have also raised concerns about the impact of the increased number of vehicles on one of the region's busiest junctions, the Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills.

But when the Highways Agency begins its opening statements tomorrow, they will be followed by support from Norfolk County Council, Suffolk County Council, Shaping Norfolk's Future, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Gateway A11 East, and more than 16,000 people who signed the "Dual the A11" petition.

If the scheme - estimated between �106m and �147m - gets the go-ahead, civil engineering firm Birse Civils could start work in late 2010, with the road opening in early 2013.

The Highways Agency announced at the weekend that the Yorkshire-based company had been awarded an Early Contractor Involvement contract - aimed to speed up the construction process - ahead of Norfolk firm May Gurney.

Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, said the withdrawal of the environmental objections from the RSPB and Natural England had removed a major obstacle ahead of tomorrow's inquiry.

"I am encouraged by this and I hope the secretary of state realises the importance of it and will press ahead and get this under way. I want to see earth movers there by the spring," he said.

South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser added that he hoped the public inquiry would resolve the outstanding issues "swiftly and sensibly".

"We have all worked tremendously hard to see the project move forward. As I have always said, if the economy of Thetford and Norfolk as a whole is to realise its true potential, this upgrade is essential and urgent.

"Norfolk is the only county in England without a dual carriageway link to the national trunk road network and in this day and age this position is unsustainable. Norfolk deserves better," he said.

But Michael Douglas, director of the Elveden Estate, said there were "serious flaws" in the Highways Agency's traffic modelling and the absence of a junction connecting the B1112 to a widened A11 would be detrimental to the Elveden Farms business, which has large potato and onion stores on either side of the A-road.

"In principle, we have always been supportive. The cost of putting two slips of Tarmac to create access to the B1112 is relatively small. Without it, it will have a serious impact on traffic at Fiveways," he said.

Four alternative schemes have been put forward by objectors to address the feared traffic impact on the Fiveways roundabout, which will be assessed by the planning inspector.

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