[A-List] UK corporate state: roads lobby
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 11 06:59:17 MST 2002
Darling unveils £5.5bn roadbuilding 'binge'
Widening work signals u-turn in transport policy
Andrew Clark, transport correspondent
Wednesday December 11, 2002
The biggest roadbuilding programme for two decades was given the green light
yesterday by the transport secretary, Alistair Darling, in a decision
greeted as a signal that the government was ditching the last vestiges of
In a package of transport improvements costing £5.5bn, more than a dozen
motorways and trunk roads will be widened or upgraded.
Controversial projects include widening sections of the M6 and the M1 in the
Midlands, while creating dual carriageways on the A1 north of Newcastle and
the A453 near Nottingham.
But in a victory for environmentalists, Mr Darling rejected a proposal to
cut through the picturesque Blackdown Hills in Devon and Somerset. He also
amended plans for a tunnel under Stonehenge to limit any damage to the
In a parliamentary statement, Mr Darling said enhancing Britain's road
network was essential to cope with increasing demand for travel as Britain's
economy grows. He said the package was part of a "measured and balanced
approach between road and rail, public and private transport".
"Our roads and railways are facing increasing demands on them," he said. "We
are one of the largest economies in the world. In the last five years we
have got 1.5 million more people into work. People are better off and travel
The Confederation of British Industry welcomed the plans, saying congestion
cost the economy more than £20bn a year.
But environmentalists expressed deep disappointment, saying Mr Darling had
turned his back on efforts to create a "sustainable" transport policy.
Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner, Tony Bosworth, accused him of
"running up the white flag to the roads lobby", saying: "Attempting to
tarmac our way out of our congestion prob lems has failed in the past and
will fail again in the future."
Mr Darling's statement marked a sharp change in tone from the transport
policy of the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, whose emphasis was on
encouraging motorists to ditch their cars in favour of buses and trains.
Under persistent questioning on BBC Radio's Today programme, Mr Darling
refused to say whether reducing car travel was still an objective.
The shadow transport secretary, Tim Collins, accused Mr Darling of
performing a blatant u-turn. He said the government had been through "five
and a half shamefully wasted years" in which motorists had been "lectured,
penal ised and massively taxed". He added: "Now they seem to expect
long-suffering drivers to be grateful when they simply promise to deliver in
the next five years a whole series of roads which could and should have been
completed in the last five years."
Mr Darling's advisers insisted that yesterday's measures were consistent
with the government's 10-year plan for transport, which envisages 360 miles
of road widening and 100 new bypasses by 2011, balanced by an increase in
bus and rail use.
The government also confirmed it was pressing ahead with a new tram network
in Liverpool and an extension to Manchester's Metrolink.
Minor initiatives announced by the government include new bus stations, park
and ride schemes and traffic calming schemes. Local authorities outside
London were told that their total budget for transport schemes this year
would be £1.6bn, a rise on last year's £1.58bn.
Mr Darling stopped short of permitting the most controversial roadbuilding
scheme of all - a dual carriageway through the Blackdown Hills as part of an
upgrade of the A303 between London and the West Country.
Steve Hounsham of the green group Transport 2000 described this as a "rare
glimmer of hope", although he added: "That doesn't hide the fact that this
is a roadbuilding binge."
But West Country business leaders expressed dismay, saying a direct dual
carriageway was crucial to attracting investment.
Robin Teverson, chief executive of Finance Cornwall, said: "There will be
general disappointment that the government hasn't bitten the bullet and
built a dual carriageway all the way through.
"Communications are the lifeblood of business and we need to prevent
companies from being tempted out of the region."
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