Road-building `privatisation' to be halted

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Ministers are increasingly worried that their plan to "privatise" many roads schemes could cause cutbacks in the road-building programme because private money is more expensive than government funds.

The "Design, Build, Finance and Operate" (DBFO) schemes are a precursor to road tolls, as they involve private companies building new roads in return for a "shadow toll" based on the number of users of the roads.

The delay in introducing road tolling, revealed in yesterday's Independent, will mean that as more money is allocated to pay for already built roads in the form of shadow tolls, less money will be available for new schemes. Ministers have become aware of this and are set to call a halt to new "private" schemes. So far, the Department of Transport has announced that eight schemes across the country, worth £400m, are to be built on the basis of DBFO.

Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, has also become worried about DBFO schemes conflicting with his wider transport objectives. Dr Mawhinney has launched a national transport debate in an effort to move policy away from the much-criticised pro-roads approach of his predecessor, John MacGregor. However, DBFO schemes encourage the construction company to do everything to attract more traffic on to its roads. Matthew Spencer, transport campaigner at the environmental group Greenpeace, said: "Roadbuilders will want to encourage development along the road and discourage rival transport plans, such as new train lines or cycle routes."

Dr Mawhinney is aware of this potential conflict and has decided not to announce any new DBFO schemes until the first batch has been successfully put out to tender.

As revealed yesterday, he has called for a rethink on the policy of introducing motorway tolls without looking at the wider implications for transport. He is now looking at linking motorway tolls with the even more contentious congestion charging in towns.

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