Hanson says UK road plans are stuck in the slow lane

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The Independent Online

The Chief executive of Hanson, the building materials giant, complained yesterday of the Government's "lack of action" on road building.

The Chief executive of Hanson, the building materials giant, complained yesterday of the Government's "lack of action" on road building.

Reporting interim results, Alan Murray said: "What we've seen is a lot of talk but where's the detail? How much money is to be allocated to roads? Coupled with the slow planning system, it is very difficult to see money being delivered to projects."

Hanson produces materials that go into road building. It said the lack of activity in the UK meant that it was reviewing its business here.

Mr Murray said, out of the 100 major roads schemes announced three years ago, just 20 had been completed, 13 were in progress, while the rest were stuck at the planning stage. The level of public consultation required for major projects had to be reduced or the UK's infrastructure would fall behind the rest of the developed world.

"They [the Government] have committed themselves to put record amounts into transport. That is what is needed to relieve congestion and get the country moving," he said.

"There are 30 million people with driving licences in the UK. Surely they want to know whether they are going to be held up on the M25, or where-ever, for hours and hours."

Hanson said that it had started the full structural review of its UK business in response to the sluggish demand. The move would mean cost-cutting and job reductions, Mr Murray said, although he declined to identify their likely magnitude. Hanson's UK aggregates business employs 3,700.

Hanson's interim results showed pre-tax profits, before exceptionals, slip to £113.9m, from £120.6m previously. The company said it would have been ahead of last year were it not for a £4.8m increase in pension costs and a £7.1m hit from currency movements.

"It's all about pull-through in the second half. We have it all to do," Mr Murray said, adding the UK was the only area of concern in the group's operations.

Hanson faces a barrage of claims related to the production of materials containing asbestos. In the first half, 11,700 new claimants arose, while 3,500 claims were resolved, with 70 per cent dismissed.

The cost of settling in the period was $32.0m (£18m), $8.2m higher than the second half of 2003. Outstanding claims now total 132,400. Mr Murray said: "The vast majority of claims have no substance to them."

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