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UK Politics

Protesters warn against new road plans: Critics say Chancellor's £18bn scheme will harm environment and do nothing to ease congestion


Hundreds of protesters walked the length of a controversial planned road route through the Sussex countryside yesterday on a national rally against the Government's £18bn road-building plans.

Ministers are expected to release details this week of road reforms that, campaigners say, will lead to more than 250 roads being tarmacked through some of the UK's best-loved landscapes.

The Government Green Paper, expected to be announced before MPs break for their summer recess on Thursday, will flesh out proposals in last month's spending review to invest £10bn in road repairs and £18bn in new roads by 2021.

Yesterday, protesters walked the proposed route of the contentious £100m Bexhill-to-Hastings Link Road, which will pass through Combe Haven valley in East Sussex, a site of special scientific interest for its rich birdlife and vast reed bed.

Campaigners argued that George Osborne's stimulus package has resurrected plans for hundreds of "zombie roads", dropped, in some cases, decades ago as unfeasible.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the rally's organisers, the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "These roads have been talked about and studied to death for years. The reason nothing has happened is that they are difficult, expensive and environmentally damaging. If the Government has another round of feasibility studies, it will simply bring back roads that refuse to die."

Sian Berry, from the Roads to Nowhere Campaign, said: "This is about trying to make sure local groups fighting roads can talk to each other, get together and learn from successes and mistakes."

Ms Berry said the Bexhill-to-Hastings Link Road was the worst of all the proposed new roads, adding: "The Combe Haven valley is an amazing historical landscape. It is emblematic of the problems different roads can cause – but it is all going on here. There is everything wrong with this road."

The Chancellor's spending review pledged to build all available Highways Agency road projects and to add at least an additional 221 lane miles on the busiest motorways to relieve congestion.

Among the plans up for review are extra lanes through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site as well as motorways through the Peak District, Norfolk Broads and South Downs.

Mr Joseph said: "We are expecting a lot more anger once the plans become clear. The idea that you can solve congestion by building more and bigger roads is doomed to futility."

Greenpeace, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England all supported yesterday's rally.

The Department for Transport last night defended the £57m it has pledged towards the Bexhill-to-Hastings Link Road as crucial for opening up 52,000 square miles of land for housing and new jobs.

A ministry spokesman said: "This scheme will kick-start economic regeneration in a deprived area of the South-east and tackle problems of accessibility between the towns of Bexhill and Hastings."