SPENDING ON new road schemes will be cut by £400M over the next three years, the Highways Agency said last week.
The Agency has confirmed that just £1.9bn will be spent on capital schemes between 2005/06 and 2007/08.
In real terms this is £400M down on the last three years and £2bn short of the £3.9bn three year total promised in the government's original 10 year transport plan published in 2000.
The cuts mean that many major schemes - some with contractors already appointed - have been deferred, some indefinitely.
Hauliers body the Freight Transport Association (FTA) expressed disappointment at the announcement.
'Given the acute congestion on trade routes the Highways Agency is giving up the ghost in terms of preparing for a level of investment to deliver the infrastructure improvements the country desperately needs, ' said FTA chief economist Simon Chatman.
'These are not spurious plans.
These are sections of road that have been sat on for years and years and years. While hard shoulder running and exhortations to use public transport are all well and good, you can't get away from the fact that we need to put down more black top.'
The cutbacks are confirmed in the Agency's Targeted Programme of Improvements (TPI), which has been redrawn to differentiate between schemes of national and regional importance.
New Regional Transport Boards are to be set up in all the English regions to decide on priorities for schemes of regional rather than national importance (See news analysis, page 15).
Industry sources told NCE that 14 schemes earmarked to be progressed 'subject to regional priorities' have effectively been shelved indefinitely.
But the Highways Agency insisted the TPI remained on course. 'The TPI is continuing. We expect to start construction on 33 new schemes, compared with only 14 during the previous three years, ' said a statement.
'We also expect to progress a number of other schemes to the point where they are planned to be considered for construction when the next round of funding becomes available in 2008 and onwards.'
Among the regional schemes delayed , the highest profile is the £183M A303 Stonehenge tunnel.
Another eight schemes have been badged 'regional schemes for future consideration' which will not be progressed until 2008/9.
One is the £145M A3 Hindhead tunnel which will now not start until after 2008, even though Balfour Beatty has already been appointed under an early contractor involvement (ECI) arrangement. The firm was expecting construction to start in 2005/06.
Other regional schemes in the 'future construction' category are the A46 Newark to Widmerpool Improvement - originally expected to start in 2006/7, and the A66 Long Newton Grade Separated Junction, previously planned for a 2004/05 start.
Most schemes considered to be of national rather than regional importance are on schedule for their original start dates. But the A1 Dishforth to Barton improvement, originally scheduled for a spring 2007 start, has been put back indefinitely. ECI contractor Alfred McAlpine/ Amec joint venture has already been appointed.
A large chunk of the £1.9bn spend announced last week will go on such major schemes as the M1 and M25 widening, which only entered the TPI in the last 12 months.
Widening of the M1 from junctions 6A to 10 and 21 to 30, and of the M25 from junctions 1b to 3 and 16 to 23 (DBFO), are all scheduled for a start in the next three years.
Plans to add extra lanes to the M1 between junctions 10 and 13 and junctions 21 and 30 and widening the M25 from junctions 5 to 6/7 and junctions 23 to 30 were also announced as new additions to the TPI.
In all, 15 TPI schemes appear to have been delayed by at least a year.