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Never again

What will be the legacy of the Newbury bypass? Will it be celebrated as the best example of environmentally-friendly road construction or damned as one of the last dying kicks of a discredited road building programme. The answer, of course, is both.

However, the real story of the Newbury bypass is of a road which would never be built now and whose price was vastly inflated by security costs and 'over-the-top' environmental measures.

Value for money it is not. Neither is it the best and most environmentally- sound solution to Newbury's congestion problems.

The Birmingham Northern Relief Road excepted, the Newbury bypass could prove to be the last attempt for a generation to reduce congestion by building a major road. If its start date had slipped even a few months, the bypass would probably have been caught up in the Tories' cost-driven reduction of the road programme and then kicked into touch by New Labour's drive to tackle traffic problems through integrated transport measures.

Because the Newbury bypass got going just before the axe fell on the road programme it was saddled with the twin burdens of high security costs, to keep the protesters off, and environmental measures installed in the vain hope of keeping them happy. It was a road built in a hopefully uniquely contradictory atmosphere - an Alice in Wonderland world where burrows were dug for adders as a four lane highway was driven across a site of special scientific interest.

There will be lessons to be learned from the Newbury bypass - particularly in areas of procurement and specific environmental safeguards - but as a whole the project is a nonsense.

The residents of Newbury will no doubt celebrate the opening of the bypass. The decision to pedestrianise the town centre so quickly after the opening of the bypass is a masterstroke. But if the experience of other bypassed towns is anything to go by, other vehicles will take the place of the through traffic relatively soon. Other traffic reduction measures will have to follow quickly if Newbury is not to lose the benefit of its bypass within a few years.

And since that is the case, why not take the 'integrated' approach from the start. No clued-up traffic engineer would put forward the Newbury bypass scheme today. Why then should we view the Newbury bypass as anything other than an anachronism from the day it opened?

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