Elation at securing £1bn in transport schemes from Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report was tempered by concerns that less cash was immediately available for civils work.
Darling identified infrastructure as key to economic recovery in his report on Monday. He said £3bn of projects scheduled to start 2009/10 and 20010/11 would be brought forward in an attempt to stimulate economic growth. The bulk of this spend will be in housing, hospitals and schools, with around £1bn earmarked for transport schemes.
On Tuesday transport secretary Geoff Hoon announced a list of roads projects to be fast tracked. These include:
■ £30M improvements to the A180/A160 junction near Immingham Port
■ £100M A46 dualling between Newark and Widmerpool
■ £30M of improvements to the A12 between the M25 and Ipswich
■ £165M south east Manchester relief road
■ £54M improvements to the North London rail line
Contractors working on major schemes such as the M25 widening and the 2012 Olympics are also being urged to speed up delivery. The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) backed Hoon’s announcement. Chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said: "It goes without saying that we are in favour of these plans and agree with Hoon that significant spending in the sector is vital if consultancy and engineering is to thrive, and in some cases survive, in the UK." "This is a welcome move but of course the priorities of our members stretch further than these issues and we hope the plans are merely the start of things to come."
But it emerged that much of the £1bn in accelerated spending would go on rolling stock and active traffic management schemes, rather than on construction work as funding for some of the roads schemes was not fully guaranteed.
Around £300M of the projects will go ahead on condition that it is backed up by local and regional funding. Of the total cash being brought forward, £300M is for new train carriages, and a further £300M is for implementing 800km of Active Traffic Management schemes. The £100M A46 dualling between Newark and Widmerpool in Nottinghamshire was the only scheme to receive guaranteed funding. "Of the £700M remaining [after spending on rolling stock], we estimate that only £400M would be able to begin straight away, and some £200M of that would be for ATM," said one industry source. Apart from the A12 upgrade, all of the roads mentioned by Hoon must still complete statutory planning procedures before starting.
Campaign for Better Transport director Stephen Joseph said the route improvements identified by Hoon were a "ragbag list of schemes rather than a considered package." He said more could have been achieved by making smaller investments in local transport. "By avoiding putting any money into local transport, the government is avoiding tackling where most of the problems – and the opportunities for solving them – really are," he said.
However, Leicestershire County Council director of highways and transportation, Matthew Lugg was delighted at the news that the £100M A46 dualling would go ahead. "It’s really good news for the region after all the individual lobbying we have been doing," he said, but other schemes are still waiting in planning. Housebuilding bodies expressed concern that the sector has received only £150M from the £3bn infrastructure package. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said the investment in housing would not be enough.