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Industry cautious over Brown's transport spend promise

CONSTRUCTION AND transport leaders this week reacted cautiously to Chancellor Gordon Brown's Budget promise to maintain transport spending until 2008.

Most said they would reserve judgement until full details of his spending plans were published in the summer.

They feared increases could be soaked up by the rail sector, leaving nothing for much needed road projects.

There was also concern that the emphasis of the spending increase could be skewed to the end of the next three year spending period.

Brown used his annual Budget speech to Parliament last week to promise to maintain transport spending until the end of 2007/8.

Full details of these plans will be laid out in July when Brown publishes his comprehensive spending review. This will cover the period from 2005/6 to 2007/8.

'I have consulted with the CBI and business organisations and they feel it is critical to the economy to press ahead with investments in our infrastructure and that we should not return to the old stop-go in spending which left hundreds of road projects planned but never completed, ' he told Parliament.

'So the spending review will provide for real terms growth in transport funding, not for cuts.'

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association welcomed Brown's statement, but said it wanted to see the detail which would emerge from the government's 10 year transport plan update. This is expected to be published shortly after the spending review.

Materials producers also expressed concern that spending could be skewed towards to the end of the decade and that rail maintenance and renewals could absorb much of the spend.

'We would still like to see a clearer timetable of output targets, ' said Construction Products Association economist Allan Wilen.

'We would not want to see large projects pushed into the next decade, ' he said.

Tarmac technical director David Cather welcomed Brown's announcement, but said it did not go far enough.

'We believe a real growth in spending is now needed to address past neglect, ' he said.

'There is a significant backlog in local bypasses'.

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