Go-ahead for huge road-building programme

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Indy Politics

The Government was today announcing a huge multi-billion pound road-building programme in a jambusting move welcomed by the haulage industry.

But green groups were horrified that the English motorway widening projects being outlined by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling will cut across beauty spots.

Geoff Dossetter, of the Freight Transport Association, said: "We welcome this package of road improvements.

"We believe that the UK deserves a roads infrastructure appropriate to the operation of the fourth largest economy in the world."

Mr Darling, speaking in the House of Commons, was also expected to outline proposals for introducing - eventually - road charging throughout England.

He admitted earlier this week that it remained to be seen whether such a scheme was technically feasible nationwide.

Mr Dossetter said: "We fully support road user charging as a means of part-managing the contested roads infrastructure, which costs the nation some £20 billion a year.

"Road user charges for lorries are being introduced in 2006, but it is cars that are the primary cause of congestion and the scheme must ultimately apply to them and be planned for now."

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said: "The roads announcement threatens large areas of countryside, including the proposed South Downs National Park."

The CPRE added that the expected decision to widen much of the M25 to four lanes in each direction would merely mean "more tarmac for more traffic".

As well as the decision on the M25, Mr Darling was expected to announce widening schemes for a number of other motorways, including the M1, the M18 and the M62.

He was making decisions on recommendations from a number of transport studies that have examined the case for road-building and other transport improvements in various areas of England.

Some of the studies have raised the case for charging motorists to use roads - a scheme which finds favour with Professor David Begg, chairman of the Government-funded monitoring and advisory body the Commission for Integrated Transport.

Earlier this week, the commission was highly critical of the progress the Government was making with its 10-year transport plan. Mr Begg said the Government should set in motion a plan to introduce nationwide road charging by 2015.

Mr Darling said earlier this week: "If you look at the pressures we face over the next 20 to 30 years, then we have to consider how best to manage future demand and I have said that road pricing, which we are introducing for lorries from 2006, is one of the things that we need to look at.

"Whether it is technically feasible of course, and there are all sorts of other difficulties you need to look at, remains to be seen."

He added: "I don't believe that a policy that is designed to drive people off the roads is likely to command much support. What we do is we ask ourselves how can we manage the demand that we know is likely to be on our roads ... how do you manage that?

"New technology might enable you to better manage the existing road space so that, for example, if you have got very crowded roads at rush hour, could you through new technology move some of that pressure on to less congested times?

"I have said on a number of occasions that, as a country, we can't build ourselves out of the problems we face.

"We do need to ask ourselves how we can better manage the use of road space as well as putting more money into the railways and buses so that public transport is a reliable alternative."

The Institute of Advanced Motorists said: "Motorways are our safest roads statistically. So by making the best use of the network, through widening the M25 for example, the Government will ease the congestion on feeder roads and at the same time reduce some of the peak-time bunching that often leads to shunts, or worse.

"Improved roads can only improve road safety, if only because reduced journey times will remove some of the frustration that too often leads to poor driving standards."

The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Tom Brake said: "These road plans will be welcome if they improve safety and tackle bottlenecks. But we should not create a US-style network of superhighways.

"You can't build Britain out of the congestion which is costing business £20 billion per year.

"All road plans must go hand-in-glove with improvements to public transport so that safety, comfort and cost-effectiveness are the watchwords of an integrated public transport system.

"The Government may find that road pricing and wider congestion charging provides the most effective solution."