A 13.7-mile stretch of road vital to the south Lincolnshire food industry has become the top priority for business leaders seeking to protect the area’s economy.
Improvements to the A16 between Spalding and Peterborough was the main item on the agenda at a meeting of food producers with Transport Minister John Hayes MP in Spalding on Friday.
Mr Hayes, whose South Holland and the Deepings constituency is responsible for 37 per cent of all food produce sold in UK supermarkets, held talks with Justin Szymborski, managing director of Spalding-based fruit and vegetable supplier FESA.
Also at the talks was Trevor Hyde, operations manager of FESA and chairman of the Spalding Logistics Forum, a lobbying group for distribution, haulage and transport firms, along with Spalding and District Chamber of Commerce president Phil Scarlett.
Mr Szymborski said: “We wanted to show Mr Hayes the significance of food produce to the South Holland and the efficient ways in which we work.
“We’re adapting to make sure that we’re fit for purpose, given the economic climate we’re in and the very competitive nature of the market.
“This area is heavily involved in the food industry and, ultimately, that food needs to be distributed, a great deal of it by using the roads in South Holland.
“The geographical area is experiencing growth and we’re all doing a very effective job of delivering growth.
“But this meeting was as much about how we maintain that growth in the future with infrastructure developments.”
Figures produced by Clay Lake Produce Park for the meeting showed that while 28 per cent of all road freight is associated with food, a massive 75 per cent of all traffic in South Holland is related to the food sector.
Also considering that at least one million truck movements take place in South Holland annually, the issue of making the A16 “fit for purpose” by creating extra lanes is a pressing one in a General Election year.
Mr Hyde said: “We currently have an infrastructure growth that is outstripping the rest of the country and if we don’t monitor that, the food industry in South Holland will face a real threat from roads that won’t be able to cope.”
Spalding Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying for improvements to the A16 for some time and a delegation met with Mr Hayes at 10 Downing Street last November to make their case.
Mr Scarlett said: “The meeting on Friday was a direct follow-up to the talks we had at 10 Downing Street in November which was to lobby the Government for improvements to be made to the A16.
“At that meeting, we agreed to give John Hayes an opportunity to do a fact-finding visit to people, other than those he saw in London.
“All of these people endorsed the view that the A16 is where the majority of the road transport from the haulage industry goes, but it’s a road that creates problems if there’s the slightest accident.
“The need for improvement will continue, regardless of who is in power and in the post of Transport Minister at the Department of Transport after the General Election in May.”
Work on the £80.3 million road, originally called the A1073 Spalding to Eye Improvement Scheme, started in February 2008 after a survey found that between 2002 and 2007, there were a total of 125 accidents and six fatalities on the existing A1073.
At the time, Lincolnshire County Council’s executive member for highways Coun William Webb said: “The safety record on the existing A1073 has made this scheme absolutely vital.
“It is also of great importance to open up the eastern part of Lincolnshire, further connecting us with the rest of the country and strategically bringing the county closer to the motorway network and consumers in London.
“This will bring great benefit to the commerce and economy of the area.”
Coun Webb was backed by the then Transport Minister Rosie Winterton MP who said: “It is important for both the safety of local communities and the growth of local businesses that south Lincolnshire is provided with a better strategic link to the East of England than currently exists.
“The Government confirms the provision of almost 70 million for a faster, safer and more environmentally-friendly new route into the east, returning local roads to local people.”
Speaking to the Free Press on Friday, Mr Hayes said: “South Holland is a vital area in terms of food production and has been for a long time.
“But what is clear is that it’s not getting any easier, with some of the primary and infrastructural challenges facing the food sector.
“What I want to now do is to take this argument about roads back to the heart of government and, in the first instance, that would involve us getting our case up the agenda.
“Given the significance of the food sector here and the ramifications for the local and national economy, I believe we can make a very strong case.”
Calls for the A16 to be improved are supported by Mark Tinsley of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership who said: “One of our priorities is the general transport infrastructure in Lincolnshire and three particular roads are a problem.
“The A15, the A16, where the opportunity to dual it wasn’t taken, and the A17 which is a really negative road in terms of people’s perceptions of Lincolnshire.
“The A16 basically restricts the speed of movement of transport and, sadly, it isn’t a particularly safe road.
“We recognise the political realities of the A16, which was improved recently, but it shouldn’t stop us having a vision to aim towards.
“We should ask John Hayes MP to start a process of calling for improvements to the A16 because, although we’re talking about a lot of money, the Government and Opposition are both beginning to realise that Lincolnshire’s roads are in need of improvement.”