'U-turn' on road plans attacked

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The Independent Online


The CBI yesterday launched a bitter attack on what it claimed was a government U-turn on transport policy, and strongly criticised the performance of the private finance initiative.

Robert Napier, chairman of the CBI transport policy committee and chief executive of Redland, said that in May 1989 the Government had launched a White Paper promising higher priority for the needs of industry for a modern strategic road network. "Eighteen months on and two secretaries of state later, this government has done a U-turn down the motorway," Mr Napier said.

He said that by 1994 the U-turn had become a policy vacuum. Despite calls by the then transport secretary, Dr Brian Mawhinney, for a great transport debate the Government had taken no lead whatsoever.

"Infrastructure spending has already been cut and seems set for a further major reduction on 28 November [Budget Day]." Against the background of industry fears that the private finance initative will be used as a fig leaf by the Chancellor to cut public spending in the Budget, Mr Napier said the CBI found this unacceptable. The private finance initiative was offered as the private sector solution to replace the cuts, "but as is well known, has so far failed to deliver. The PFI won't compensate for the reduction in central government funding."

Treasury ministers had sensed the political mood in favour of environmental protection and found little resistance to cutting infrastructure spending, Mr Napier said.

Yet transport was vital to competitiveness and the current UK infrastructure was not competitive.

Mr Napier said it was perfectly possible to spend on transport in an environmentally sensitive manner as the Dutch had done. He called on the Government to make the difficult decisions required to reverse the inadequacies of Britain's transport links, without which Britain would fall down the competitiveness league table. Investment must also be increased in the railways, he said.

The West Coast main line was a national disgrace, Mr Napier said.

The UK needed to invest pounds 2bn a year more than it does in transport infrastructure. A Budget that cut transport spending and placed too much emphasis on the PFI was "not acceptable to business".