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Reasons to be cheerful

Viewpoint - Rod Eddington's transport study must not be left to gather dust says Peter Andrews

Contractors who remember the Transport Ten Year Plan 2000 White Paper or even Roads to Prosperity would be forgiven a feeling of déjà vu when Rod Eddington published his worthy study amid a blizzard of reports about the imminence of road pricing. But if you can get as far as volume four of the 366-page document then it makes interesting reading.

Obviously, road pricing would change the way we travel so the focus on it in the media is somewhat understandable, but there is a lot more to Eddington than just pay-as-youdrive. He explicitly recognises the economic importance of good transport links.

On the face of it he accepts the need for new infrastructure and encourages a targeted and innovative approach to solving bottlenecks and pinch points, particularly on urban, interurban and international routes.

For contractors, the most encouraging element of Eddington's study is its focus on enabling the system to deliver.

He makes the case, as we have done, for long-term investment, with a clear articulation of policy objectives, implemented in a rolling programme over ve to 10 years, framed in a context that takes on future challenges.

Eddington seems to appreciate that long-term transport infrastructure problems can be more effectively solved when the government provides clarity and continuity in its transport policies and planning.

This will make happy reading for contractors - after all, we welcomed the 2000 White Paper and mourned its demise when it was effectively terminated after four years. Eddington is pushing for a framework that would be even greater in scope.

Contractors need clarity if we are to invest in training and deliver the innovative solutions that the study identies.

More importantly, longerterm frameworks provide the best chance of having a consistent flow of work. Stop-go spending is wasteful and the client gets less innovation and less value for money if investment is splashing about one year and dries up the next. Given the pace with which society is changing, this approach makes sense.

However, Gordon Brown is under no obligation to implement any part of the study in the comprehensive spending review next summer and from the experience of the Ten Year Plan we could be forgiven for thinking that the government is uncomfortable with this sort of long-term programme anyway.

There are some reasons to be cheerful though. We are expecting an overview of the Draft Road Transport Bill before Christmas, which will probably pave the way for road pricing, and there are changes coming at the top of the Department for Transport (DfT) when Sir David Rowlands, the permanent secretary, retires. Eddington, we hope, will prompt his successor to carry out a review of the DfT's function and strategy.

If such a review coincides with the spending review this could be an opportunity to make changes that would better deliver much-needed infrastructure improvements.

Eddington's study should not be left to gather dust.

Peter Andrews is chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association

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