Road schemes scrapped by MacGregor in pounds 3bn U-turn

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The government has signalled a turnaround in its transport policy by announcing that 49 road schemes, costing pounds 3bn, have been dropped from the national roadbuilding programme and a further 69 deferred for at least 10 years.

While the change falls well short of meeting environmentalists' concerns over the national roadbuilding programme, recosted yesterday at pounds 18bn, it appears to mark the end of the strategy announced in 1989 of building enough roads to cope with a doubling of traffic by 2025.

In announcing the results of the roads review, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, said that work on 80 of the 371 remaining schemes would be given 'priority' and speeded up, while 173 others, called 'priority two' would be built somewhat later.

He said many of the schemes had been dropped because of potential environmental damage. Much more attention would be paid to environmental concerns in future, he said. In an attempt to avoid antagonising the powerful pro-roads lobby, however, he said that the Government would continue to spend pounds 2bn a year on the national roadbuilding programme. 'Prioritising schemes in this way will save pounds 100m per year,' he said.

Environmental groups were pleased that a number of schemes have been dropped but pointed out that many of the most controversial, such as the widening of the M25 near Heathrow to 14 lanes and the A36 Salisbury by-pass, have been given top priority.

However, plans for major new roads on 'green field sites' such as the M12, the cross Kent-Hampshire route and much of the East-West route from the M40 to Felixstowe, have been scrapped.

A spokesman for Alarm UK, the federation of anti-roads campaigns, said: 'While in the medium term there is not much change, in the longer term dropping these major new roads is very significant and means they have abandoned any hope of coping with congestion by building roads.' Other anti- road groups promised to continue with campaigns of direct action against individual schemes.

The British Roads Federation has calculated that schemes given priority would be built in the next five years, while those in category two would take between five and 10 and those deferred between 10 and 15.

Yesterday Mr MacGregor also launched the Highways Agency, which will be responsible for maintaining and building roads with 2,400 staff who previously worked for the Department of Transport.

The agency will work to a charter which includes guaranteeing that roadworks will be at least six miles apart and no more than 2.5 miles long.

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