GOVERNMENT PLANS to slash the time it takes to get highway schemes under way could fail unless parliament first makes firm decisions on which roads will get the green light, it was claimed this week.
The Ten Year Transport Plan includes plans to cut between three and five years off the average 10 year wait between the beginning of public consultation and start on site. The Highways Agency aims to meet the target by consulting the public earlier, implementing the survey, preliminary design and environmental assessment phases in parallel and getting contractors on board earlier.
However, AA policy director John Dawson claimed that the strategic decision to proceed with a scheme must be made first at a parliamentary level allowing the planning inquiry to deal with local issues.
It is hoped that under new planning rules to be revealed by the Department for the Environment Transport and the Regions early next year, strategic decisions on the need for a road scheme could be included as part of a bill allowing local planning inquiries to decide on the type of scheme to be built.
Costain chief executive John Armitt agreed with Dawson's proposal. 'We need greater use of parliamentary bill processes before a public inquiry. Then at least we'll know at that stage whether we've got a scheme or not, ' he said.
But the Highways Agency head of 10 Year Transport Plan Team Keith Miller maintained that he was already confident that a 'change in political will' would cut delivery times and ensure schemes were 'revved up and ready to go' after public inquiry.
He hailed the progress being made on the A500 improvement at Stoke on Trent which is a pilot scheme to explore earlier delivery. Designer Parkman has developed new contract documents which will allow contractors to be appointed earlier.
Miller suggested that a similar initiative might be used on the Stonehenge tunnel.
Clive Livingstone, director of Stonehenge consultant Mott McDonald, added: 'I would love to get a contractor working on detailed design over the next six months. It could certainly save 18 months and ensure start of works by 2005.'