ROAD CONTRACTORS and consultants face a dramatic drop in workload next year because the government has been too slow to push through projects set out in its 10-year transport plan.
This week road builders expressed fears that they would run out of work because a gap is appearing between completion of existing projects and start of new ones.
There are also concerns that delays to proposed trunk road schemes are throwing the government's 10-year transport plan off schedule.
Schemes to make up the target of completing 100 bypasses and 576km of motorway widening over 10 years are reaching tender stage far too slowly for them to hit targets.
Contractors and consultants fear there will be a road building hiatus after summer 2002. This is due to the Highways Agency's failure to give the go ahead to schemes from the Highways Agency's 41 project Targeted Programme of Improvements.
Another 35 schemes are facing delay because their construction depends on the outcome of the government commissioned multimodal transport studies.
Some of the big studies have slipped back by 'several months' with the pivotal Midlands to Manchester; London to South Midlands and London Orbit studies not expected until well into the new year.
'We are concerned that there could be a hiatus in road building after summer 2002, ' said Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief economist Jim Turner.
'No schemes look likely to come through before summer next year and they won't be starting on site until 2005 at the earliest.'
Turner was backed by consultants. Mott MacDonald director Clive Livingstone warned of a dip in work in 18 months because New Labour had failed to accelerate spending following years of decline under the previous Conservative government.
'A sudden switch from a declining roads programme to an accelerating one has proved to be extremely difficult, ' he said.
The concerns are voiced in the week that the government warned that it might divert funds from the £60bn road budget for the next 10 years into the troubled rail sector.
Failure to spend the trunk roads allocation of £13.5bn over 10 years could lead to some of it being spent on rail, industry sources warned.
The government's 10-year transport plan, which runs from April 2001 to April 2011, will be reviewed by the government from January. A new one running from March 2003 to April 2013 will be launched in July.
Fears are expressed that road funding in the original 10year plan could be delayed and earmarked for spending after 2011.
WSP Civils managing director Dennis Wheatley warned that such moves could ruin the stability the industry has gained from the government's efforts to set out long-term spending allocations for transport sectors Changes in the timing of roads spending could cause chaos among firms which have formed large teams geared for long-term roads based work, he said.
The Highways Agency insisted this week that, once schemes are announced, its new procurement strategy would see it delivering schemes to the 10year plan targets.
INFOPLUS www. highways. gov. uk
NCE500 Do you think that the government should raid the roads budget to pay for rail ?
NCE500 is 500 engineers that agree to be polled with a different question each week.
39 % said yes 3% said no 58% didn't know