Fury at huge 'outer M25' being built by stealth

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The Independent Online

Environmental activists warned yesterday of a future of "concrete and tyres" for the South-east with the gradual building of a new orbital motorway outside the M25.

The huge ring road will begin by linking existing and planned motorways to the east of London but will eventually stretch around the capital, Transport 2000 believes. The group said it would turn the area into the "Los Angeles of Europe".

Jonathan Bray, author of a report published by the group, claimed the region was "stumbling towards a nightmare future of chronic overheating and overdevelopment".

He said that the project was not yet a fait accompli and there was time for people to stop the new route, which first surfaced in the Conservative government's Roads for Prosperity programme in the 1990s.

The Transport 2000 report, The Threat of a Second M25: the South-east as the Los Angeles of Europe, warns that the new road would act as a symbol and a catalyst for "massive" expansion of housing, airports, ports and further road building.

The document warns that, just as the M25 generated a "car-dependent sprawl", the new orbital road would lead to hundreds of thousands of new homes by 2031, including as many as 500,000 in the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor.

The study argued that other consequences would be a third more road traffic by 2016 and a doubling of air travel by 2020 - including an expansion of Stansted and perhaps a new airport at Cliffe, Kent. It also predicts an increase of 45 per cent in tonnage through ports in the South-east by 2016.

Mr Bray argues that the trigger for the new project would be the construction of a new lower Thames crossing to the east of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at Dartford. The new crossing would link up with a series of other road schemes, existing or planned, to create a new route to Chelmsford and Stansted. From there the "Outer M25" could take the route of other road schemes, including bypasses for Luton and Dunstable, the report says.

"Pressure would then inevitably grow" to revive the Conservative plan for a full outer orbital route, it says.

One of the controversial sections of the route is in a green area of Hertfordshire where a new road would have to be built to complete the orbital. Brian Taylor, chairman of Standon parish council, said: "It would change the whole character of the parish. We are trying to have the area designated as an area of outstanding beauty. Its natural beauty goes if you have a six-lane motorway through it."

While transport experts thought that the report's findings might be drawing attention to a possible scheme, some believed that the route to the west of London would take much longer to complete.

Mr Bray said: "The cumulative impact of the numerous disparate pseudo-strategies for housing and transport will mean a future of concrete and tyres; a future more like Los Angeles than the Garden of England."

Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, said an outer M25 would cause an explosion of traffic and other developments, placing the South-east in a "hangman's noose". He said the plan would "send a chill down the spine" of all those who live in the area. One of those places is Beltring, on the A228 in Kent. The road has been widened in recent years to a dual carriageway, since when life has changed for the residents of the hamlet, which comprises a few oast houses, cornfields, a hop museum and country park and the Blue Bell pub. Trevor Steedie, who lives there, said: "It may just look like a thin red line on the road map but having four lanes of traffic belt past, it may just as well be a motorway."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said there was "no truth" in Transport 2000's suggestion that there would be an outer orbital motorway beyond the M25. She said the issue of tackling congestion on the motorway was being considered and decisions were expected this summer.