Road cleared for Mandelson's motorway

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The Independent Online
It is known in Whitehall as Mandelson's motorway. The future of the A13, a grimy dual carriageway linking east London with Essex, had looked bleak last week as ministers considered the future of 12 road schemes.

However, its salvation came in the unlikely form of Labour's Prince of Darkness, Peter Mandelson. It is understood that the pounds 150m scheme was championed by Mr Mandelson, the Minister Without Portfolio, who also has responsibility for the Millennium Dome, which lies just south of the A13.

He argued that it was essential to free up space on the already clogged up highway system along the Thames. The millennium project was also part of the regeneration of the Thames Gateway - the run-down districts on the north and south banks of the river's estuary from the centre eastwards - which would be aided by the upgrade of the A13.

Although the last government gave local authorities assurances that local traffic levels will not be affected by visitors to the dome - which will not have any roads leading to it - civil servants point out that many visitors will use the capital's roads to drive to rail terminuses, bus stations and piers.

A spokesman for the British Road Federation said it was imperative that the new road got the go-ahead as soon as possible in order to complete work in time for the celebrations in 2000.

The approval for the road will be a blow for environmentalists, who fear that the Government will approve the majority of the dozen construction projects.

Roger Higman, transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "Ministers have to be careful not to think that road building solves congestion. It does not. The quicker money goes into public transport the better."

The A13 scheme had been first approved by Steven Norris, when he was Tory transport minister, in 1993. He said yesterday that the road's principal aim was to "regenerate local communities. Because the Channel tunnel rail link does not stop along its way, the only other transport link is the A13 from Dartford and the M25 to the City. It is an economic generator".

Ministers have been keen to wave their green credentials since taking office and the roads review will be their toughest test. Despite the Government's rhetoric, many ministers privately admit that environmentalists will be disappointed, but say that these schemes are simply the legacy left by the last administration.