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Mawhinney signs off with by-pass

In his last move as Secretary of State for Transport, Brian Mawhinney shocked environmentalists by giving the go-ahead for the Newbury by-pass in Berkshire, one of the most controversial road schemes in the country, writes Christian Wolmar.

In December, in a review of the roads programme, Dr Mawhinney had said he was postponing the scheme for a year to consider alternatives. However yesterday he said that he accepted a report from the Highways Agency which had reassessed the scheme and recommended that it be built as soon as possible. He argued that congestion on the A34 had worsened since the public inquiry in 1988.

The team reassessed the background of the scheme and looked at the environmentalists' objections, which include the disturbance of protected species such as bats and dormice, the heritage value of the site of the 1643 battle of Newbury, and the expected designation of new Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the planned route. He said that taking into account all these factors and the economic need for the new road, "I can see no justification for further investigation or delay".