New two-lane toll road planned to run alongside the M6

Click to follow

Plans to a new motorway toll road were greeted yesterday with howls of protest from the green lobby and a demand from business that the highway be built as quickly as possible.

Plans to a new motorway toll road were greeted yesterday with howls of protest from the green lobby and a demand from business that the highway be built as quickly as possible.

In a major shift in policy, Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, began a consultation exercise over the construction of a 50-mile dual-lane "expressway", running parallel to the existing M6 from Birmingham to Manchester. The new toll lanes would be an alternative to widening the M6 from three to four lanes between junction 11A near Cannock, Staffordshire, and junction 19 near Knutsford in Cheshire, he said.

The new road would be only the second pay-as-you-go road in Britain, following the opening last December of the 27-mile M6 Toll from junction 4 in Warwickshire to junction 11 in Staffordshire.

The announcement overshadowed news of a pilot scheme to reserve lanes for cars carrying two or more passengers on sections of four motorways, including the M1. News of the car-sharing initiative was leaked by the Department for Transport to two Sunday newspapers to ensure that its "green" policy was not overshadowed by news of extra motorway building.

Green organisations reacted with fury to the plan for a new toll road. Friends of the Earth said it was "a terrible day for the environment"; Campaign for the Protection of Rural England said it was "an assault on the countryside" and Transport 2000 described the toll scheme as "barmy".

Stephen Joseph, director of Transport 2000, said: "The idea that we could build our way out of congestion with new toll motorways was originally called 'blue skies thinking' by Lord Birt, but it leaves a black cloud hanging over the English countryside and our commitment to tackling climate emissions. It was barmy when Birt suggested it; it's barmy now."

Mr Darling said an analysis on the effectiveness of the M6 toll from January to March 2004 found that traffic on the M6 had fallen by 10 per cent and congestion on other roads had eased. Drivers using the toll were getting "significant journey time savings", he said.

Mr Darling reminded MPs that the M6 linked two of the country's most important economic centres and that drivers regularly suffered severe congestion. Interested parties would have until late September to respond to the expressway toll plan, he said.

The expressway would double the extra capacity at a lower cost than widening the existing road by one lane and construction would not cause disruption to road-users, Mr Darling said.

Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said the approach was welcome provided it delivered extra capacity quickly. Shorter and more predictable journey times were vital for business, he added, but it would be important to get the level of the toll right. "It must provide value for money for freight vehicles if it is to be a genuine alternative," he said. "It is also important this is part of a more strategic approach to the way we pay for road use in the UK.

"Businesses are very aware that they already pay more through fuel duty and other charges than road-users elsewhere in Europe."

Comments