HIGHWAYS AGENCY framework contractors in northern England claimed this week that projects due to start on site have been shelved because funding has run dry.
Some fear that delays in getting projects to site could precede more widespread spending cuts.
Hardest hit work has been planned maintenance. This includes pier and parapet replacement, plus resurfacing work. Contractors said that the M6 and M1 had been affected in Lancashire , Cumbria, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
Contractors believe that the £45M plus M6 Thelwall viaduct emergency repair work near Warrington is bleeding the Agency's coffers dry (NCE 12 June 2003).
Work on the next phase of bearing replacement on the Thelwall viaduct is due to start before Christmas.
Here, 117 of the seven year old roller bearings are being replaced after they were found to be suffering advanced corrosion.
This follows emergency replacements earlier this year.
The works are being funded from existing Agency budgets.
'Projects in the construction management frameworks - that should have been on site a couple of months ago - have not been released yet, ' said one leading specialist contractor.
Major projects such as the A500 Stoke Pathfinder scheme are also suffering as a result of the spending shortfall. The A500 is due to be the first of the Agency's much-trumpeted Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) projects to reach site.
'Work was ahead of schedule and ready to progress from the muck shift months ago, but it has been held back because of a lack of funds, ' said a project source.
A Highways Agency spokesman denied this was true, 'Stoke Pathfinder is on the same timetable as before. There is no change in expenditure and no projects have been shelved. We have a £4.1bn budget on a rolling programme and some schemes take priority over others.'
But contractors claim to have had other projects in the stalls for months awaiting the Agency's green light. They now fear these will be shelved until more money comes through.
A leading concrete specialist said: 'The work has certainly been slow to come through. This could be because large emergency schemes have hoovered up the money and the programme of works has had to be re-evaluated as a result.'
One specialist said: 'The whole point of these framework schemes was to provide work certainty, to allow contractors to develop and build teams.