Road-building plan collapses amid chaos

The national road-building programme is grinding to a halt due to a combination of political pressure, cost overruns and administrative chaos. Construction has begun on only six of the 22 schemes originally planned to start during the year ending 31 March.

The programme also faces a threat from increased demands for compensation following a court ruling last year.

In December, Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, announced that nine of the 22 schemes would be held over, leaving 13 to be started. But it now seems that, at most, only nine or 10 will meet the deadline.

In addition, only 66 out of the 106 targets for progress on schemes - milestones such as the start of a public inquiry - have been achieved, although 18 targets have been met ahead of schedule.

Senior staff at the Highways Agency say the £2bn roads programme has become bogged down because of a lack of political direction since Dr Ma- whinney stepped into his post last July. He has launched a national transport debate and has attempted to move away from the pro-roads stance of his predecessors. The department is also considering a Green Paper on transport policy, partly in response to last year's Royal Commission on pollution.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, has cut £200m off the roads programme for each of the next two years and, because tender prices have been rising, the agency is cautious about letting out too many contracts in case it overspends.

Last April, the Highways Agency was hived off from the Department of Transport in an effort to increase efficiency. But plans to centralise the agency's work in Birmingham and cut staffing levels have reduced morale to "rock bottom and beyond", according to John Higgins, national officer of the IPMS union.

Road protests have also led to delays, such as on the M11 link road and the A27. Roads protesters are delighted at the agency's difficulties. Emma Must of the anti-roads umbrella group, Alarm UK, said: "Every delay is a small victory and leads to more cost, which means there is less money for other schemes."

Andy Pharoah, campaign co-ordinator of the British Roads Federation, said: "The agency does not know what its staff are doing." Jim Turner, spokesman for the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, said: "The Department of Transport's eye has been taken off the ball."

The apparent malaise is characterised by the delayed decision to proceed with the public inquiry over widening the M25 to 14 lanes near Heathrow Airport. A senior department source said: "They want to cancel it, but they need to find the right form of words so that similar schemes are not jeopardised."

Two other factors are also likely to lead to the scrapping of schemes previously considered viable. The rules on compensation payments have to be changed, following a ruling in a little-reported case last year. The judgment means that the department has to account for the cut in property values as well as the noise nuisance people suffer.

The department faces a bill of "tens of millions of pounds each year", according to one senior source.

In another case, the department was last month criticised by the Ombudsman for not paying compensation to a group of householders affected by the Channel tunnel rail link.

However, Patrick Brown, the department's permanent secretary, fears that conceding on this issue will open the floodgates to thousands of similar cases and he is determined not to give in.

The department is also having to draw up a response to the findings of its own advisory committee which, in a report last year, suggested that the benefits of many road schemes may be reduced because of the extra traffic they generate.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home