The road lobby is demanding a parliamentary inquiry into how the road- building programme was slashed in a review slipped through in the Budget. One lobbyist described it as "the worst day for Britain's infrastructure since the Romans left".
Edmund King, the Royal Automobile Club's campaigns' manager, who yesterday conducted a detailed analysis of the cuts, said: "We cannot understand how the Chancellor could claim in his speech that the pounds 500m Private Finance Initiative meant good news for the roads' programme. In fact, 77 schemes, or 40 per cent of the total, have been cut and a further 40 out of the remaining 107 schemes have actually been put on hold."
Mr King suggested that the 40 schemes on hold represented another hidden cut, since work on them would not start for several years. Only eight road schemes would be started between now and April 1997; two of these involve contracts on the A12-M11 link road where work has already started, and another is the A34 Newbury bypass.
Mr King said he wanted the Commons transport committee to launch an inquiry. "Although the department claims that various factors such as the environment and local support were 'taken into account', many popular bypasses, which are completely uncontroversial, have been permanently axed. There seems to have been no proper criteria in carrying out this so-called review."
Of the 77 schemes dropped, 22 are bypasses which ministers have previously said are a priority. Other major casualties include several widening schemes on the M25 and one on the M1.
James Hookham, head of transport policy at the Freight Transport Association, said that the Budget announcement was "the end of conventional road building as we know it. Tuesday was the worst day for Britain's infrastructure since the Romans left".
There are now 37 schemes, including 25 worth pounds 500m announced by the Chancellor in the Design, Finance, Build and Operate programme, in which private finance is sought to build roads.
However, the road lobby argues this scheme is untested and is paid for by the taxpayer in the long run through "shadow" tolls, the contractor receiving a fee for every vehicle using the road. "It's just a way of getting roads on the never-never," Mr King said.