Roads report leak shows rising opposition: Internal document for civil servants says two-thirds of schemes are controversial or affect beauty spots

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MOUNTING opposition to the roads programme is demonstrated in a leaked Government document which shows that two-thirds of schemes are either highly controversial or affect beauty spots or other sites of interest.

The leaking of the document, prepared by an official in the Department of the Environment but intended for use by civil servants implementing the roads programme, will be a source of considerable embarrassment to John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, who has always insisted that the programme, costed at pounds 23bn over the next 15 years, is popular with local residents near schemes.

Of 243 schemes considered by the study as 'potentially controversial road schemes', 103 are likely to engender 'high controversy' and 60 of these, plus a further 58, will have a particularly damaging effect on the environment, as they affect conservation areas, sites of special scientific interest or other valuable land.

Many of the other schemes are said to elicit 'medium controversy' and in only a handful of schemes is it mentioned that there is 'local support'.

Roger Higman, roads campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: 'This document shows that it is impossible to reconcile the roads programme with the Department of the Environment's statutory wildlife and conservation objectives.'

The document will also give succour to campaigners disheartened by what they may feel is their lack of effect. The report, for example, singles out some campaigns as being particularly strong.

The M62 around greater Manchester is said to be 'the focus for opposition to national policy'.

Opponents of the A40 Longford to M50 Gorsley trunk road in Gloucestershire are treated with less respect, however, as they are said to be 'leading an ostensibly environmentalist campaign'. Residents near the A38 Saltash to Trerule Foot 'improvement' in Cornwall are said to be mounting a strong 'nimby' (not in my back yard) campaign.

The report also confirms that the current policy of providing over- generous widening for bridges over motorways is part of a longer term plan to build 10 or 12-lane highways. For example, in mentioning the M1, the document says that work 'could facilitate D5 (dual five, that is 10 lanes)'.

Similarly in the West Midlands the M42 widening between junctions one and seven is said to 'leave scope for more lanes' even though local controversy is 'very high' and the whole length is in the green belt.

The document also shows several new roads including a second Mersey crossing as part of an extension to the M57 but admits that potential controversy will be 'high'.

One reason why so many schemes affect special areas is the Department of Transport's method of assessing their cost.

This suggests that it is much less expensive to build through remote environmentally sensitive areas than in sites near existing homes and industry where land is more expensive.

Mr Higman added: 'With rail privatisation, this is part of a double whammy on transport for the Government. Many of the schemes are in Tory marginal seats which will make the local MP very wary of supporting.'