Green blow as road schemes get go-ahead

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The Independent Online
The Government is set to anger environmentalists by approving the majority of schemes in the first stage of its review of the pounds 6bn road- building programme.

As many as eight projects out of 12 are likely to be given the green light by ministers next week. Gavin Strang, the Transport minister, will try to defuse campaigners' criticism by blaming the previous government. He will claim that ministers have been forced into "taking decisions based on the last administration's lack of a proper transport policy".

The most embarrassing decision will be to build the pounds 300m Birmingham Northern Relief Road, Britain's first toll motorway which will cut a swathe through the city's green belt. Frank Dobson, when he was shadow transport secretary, stated it would never be built.

Local cars will have to pay pounds 2 to use the new motorway - which its builders say will help hold down traffic levels in the heavily congested Midlands. However, Baroness Hayman, the roads minister, admitted to Labour MPs that the Government would have to pay pounds 30m in compensation to Midland Expressway - the private sector consortium building the road - were it to be cancelled.

The M25 widening scheme around south-west London - which was given the go-ahead by Tory transport ministers at a cost of pounds 85m - will also be rubber stamped by Dr Strang. Designed to ease congestion on the motorway's busiest stretch by widening it between junctions 12 and 15 to up to six lanes, it was attacked by Labour's shadow transport team who said it would be "swamped with queues within 10 years".

Ministers will also proceed with a pounds 163m widening of the M2 in Kent after officials pointed out that provision for the road was made in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill - passed by John Major's government.

Two projects which will complete existing road schemes will be waived through: the final section of Manchester's ring road - known as "The Box" - and a half-mile stretch to finish the Derby Southern bypass.

Most controversially, ministers are set to approve three "private" road projects, financed under the Department of Transport's private finance scheme, because the tendering process has gone too far to be cancelled. This is despite criticism of the scheme by ministers.

A pounds 100m development linking Bradford and Cumbria will see roads encroach into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Another project, the Weald and Downland upgrade, which has been attacked by environmentalists but backed by East Sussex County Council, will also win approval.

The pounds 115m South Midlands Network, which consists of eight road improvement and construction projects, has found favour with DoT officials who claim no local group opposes it.

There will be some sops to the green lobby. The Salisbury bypass, one of the prime targets of environmentalists during the past decade, will be abandoned. The 11-mile bypass, which threatened water meadows on the edge of the city, was considered the "most sensitive" in the "accelerated review" of 12 priority road schemes. Other developments being shelved are the A40 west London approach, the A13 Thames Gateway and the M62 East link road.

The final decision on all 12 schemes will be made by ministers this week.

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