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Environmental groups question integrity of transport studies

ENVIRONMENTALISTS THIS week voiced fears that 'biased' government studies into improving transport links will lead to a glut of road building after the General Election.

Environmental representatives on the Government's multimodal and roads based study panels are now 'seriously concerned' that all 30 studies due to report after the election will recommend road building.

The government set up the studies after shelving road schemes in its 1997 Roads Review. It said further road studies would be made to consider public transport alternatives.

Non-government environmentalists have one place on each of the steering groups for the studies. They claimed this week that the 18 month studies were clearly skewed against alternatives.

'These studies are not a full and proper assessment and have rarely taken a serious look at alternatives, ' said Transport 2000 campaigner Denise Carlo, who has set up meetings between all steering group representatives.

Green campaigners are particularly incensed that the government has failed to deliver promised guidance on strategic environmental assessment ahead of decision making. The guidance is being drawn up by transport research body TRL.

Three studies are now already complete. One has recommended that the A3 Hindhead tunnel and the A1 Bramham to Barton dualling should go ahead.

Another calls for a government decision on construction of the environmentally sensitive Hastings bypass. The rest of the first tranche are due to report shortly after the election.

'DETR promised this guidance months ago to help us consider the alternatives, ' said Council of the Protection of Rural England campaigner Lillian Burns, who is one of the West Midlands to North West study team.

There is also anger that consultants working for the Highways Agency and government offices have failed to consider combinations of complementary policies on issues such as parking, travel plans, rail freight and speed enforcement.

The Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions refused to comment on criticism but said that the environmental guidance was at the final editing stage and would be released later this year.

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