Newbury road firms 'plagued by doubts'

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Companies preparing to submit bids to build the pounds 101m Newbury bypass were yesterday understood to be wavering over whether they even wanted the contract.

As the countdown to Friday's deadline began, Friends of the Earth stepped up its pressure on the six contending companies to refuse to submit a tender. "They could pay a dear price by seeking to build the most unpopular road in the history of this country," Tony Juniper, deputy campaigns director, said.

Some are understood by Friends of the Earth to be preparing prohibitively expensive bids so that while appearing to tender they can actually avoid working on this particular project. "We will submit a bid but ... just because you submit a bid doesn't mean you want to win," said a spokesman for Alfred McAlpine.

A spokesman for Tarmac said: "The bottom line is that we are still in the business of road building and we will continue to build roads along with everything else.

"People have to realise that, on something like the road contract, the actual contractor has very little, if any, power in environmental aspects. We're are literally told what to build and where."

At the construction site, bailiffs yesterday drafted in abseiling experts to speed the removal of treetop protesters from two new camps. A further 21 protesters were arrested.