Two-year delay in plan to widen M25 gives critics hope

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The Independent Online
THE hopes of campaigners fighting plans to increase a seven-mile stretch of the M25 to 14 lanes were raised yesterday with the Government's disclosure that the date for the start of construction has slipped by two years to 1998 at the earliest.

Critics of the scheme say that the delay, until after the latest date for the next general election in 1997, means that there is still a chance that it could be scrapped if the Conservatives are defeated, as both opposition parties are against it.

Some believe that the Government has postponed the start because the fierce opposition from residents in the Tory heartland of Surrey could reduce its already small majority in the Commons.

But the Department of Transport, which yesterday revealed the draft orders for highways and the accompanying statement on the environmental impact, said the date had been put back to enable the consultative process and the public inquiry to be conducted properly.

The public inquiry into the roads - two three-lane highways to run alongside the M25 at its busiest sections between junctions 12 and 15, the M3 and M4 intersections - was due to begin in May, but has been put back until November and is unlikely to begin until early next year.

The level of opposition from those living in many of the small villages along the route means it is likely to go on into 1996, with any decisions unlikely to emerge until a year after that.

Chris Fisher, a spokesman for the campaign group Flame, maintains that the link road would be an environmental disaster and could put the health of those living near by, particularly children, at risk because of the levels of pollution from the increased traffic it is bound to generate.

But he further argues that it is a pointless exercise as the transport department estimates that the new roads will be large enough to cope with demand until 2015, begging the question: what then?

Two Tory MPs, Sir Michael Grylls and Sir Geoffrey Pattie, whose constituencies of North West Surrey, and Chertsey and Walton respectively, stand to be heavily affected, also oppose the scheme and could ferment trouble on the backbenches in the run-up to a general election if they thought their positions were at risk.

But yesterday Mr Fisher was content that the slippage in the date was a step in the right direction, making it a little more likely that the roads may never be started.

William Sheate, a transport campaigner for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, took less comfort from the announcement.

He said the Government's professed new scepticism over roads, as indicated in last week's review of its building programme, was now revealed as a sham.

'The DoT's proposals for the M25 will fuel further overdevelopment to the west of London,' he said. 'The environmental impact of the M25 link roads is totally unacceptable.'

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