Leak reveals road-plans axe

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The Independent Online
The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, has been asked to use tomorrow's Budget to announce the cancellation of up to 95 road-building schemes because current funding would prevent many of them being completed within 30 years.

In a confidential briefing document leaked to the environmental group Friends of the Earth, one of the Government's most senior transport advisers tells ministers that the timescale required for the programme would be "indefensible" unless projects were cut.

Among the 95 projects that could be affected are 26 motorway widening schemes, a third Thames crossing at Blackwall, east London, and bypasses in Bedford, Stamford, Disley and Shipley.

Friends of the Earth said the cuts would reprieve thousands of people whose homes are blighted, but it criticised the way they were to be dressed up as good news. The briefing paper was sent to Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, and John Watts, Infrastructure minister.

Applauding the way Mr Clarke announced the cancellation of 77 schemes in last year's Budget, Hugh Wenban-Smith of the national roads division of the Department of Transport says in the paper that, until 1995, cuts in the road programme were "inevitably perceived as `bad news'".

Last year, however, "...we took great pains to issue the results on Budget day, and with considerable success: the department as such was not blamed for the very substantial cut-back. Officials propose that we should deal with this year's announcements in the same way".

It shows that government "Design, Build, Finance and Operate" (DBFO) schemes, in which private contractors build roads which are in effect leased by back to the Government over a long period, are more costly than traditional schemes paid for by borrowing.

On current plans, including DBFOs, Mr Wenban-Smith writes, "the main programme ... would take about 30 years to complete, which would be too long to be defensible. This assumes conventional funding; if more schemes were taken forward as DBFOs, it would take longer because DBFOs require additional funding in interest and VAT payments".

As well as listing schemes recommended for cancellation, the document ranks others by importance, leaving the way for a further 96-103 to be cut.

Roger Higman of Friends of the Earth estimated the cuts could save the Government between pounds 3bn and pounds 4bn.

The Department of Transport said that it refused to comment on leaked documents.

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