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Seven year pledge for road starts

ROADS MINISTER Lord Whitty this week pledged to end industry uncertainty over road starts.

Announcing the Government's roads programme review on Friday, Whitty pledged that all 37 schemes given the go-ahead would start before the end of March 2006.

'The point of the roads review is to focus on priorities and we've only given the go-ahead to schemes that can definitely start in the next seven years,' he said. 'I cannot say exactly when individual schemes will go ahead, but it will be within the seven year period.'

During the seven years to March 1998 only 110 of the 186 schemes announced were actually started. In the last four years, it was just 28 out of 68 (see table).

But greater certainty over road starts and relief that cuts were no deeper (see box) helped mitigate industry reaction to the cancelled or deferred schemes.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association deputy chairman Dr Simon Frain welcomed 'a real timetable to carry out much needed improvement schemes', but warned that without the schemes under review the network would be incomplete.

The Association of Consulting Engineers, while pleased 'that road building has not been ruled out', warned that 'the cancellation of so many bypass schemes is counterproductive.'

Construction Confederation director of public affairs Stephen Ratcliffe claimed he was 'resigned' to cuts in the programme, but also welcomed the greater certainty. 'The last government's roads programme was a fiction,' he said.

Civil engineering economist Jim Turner commented that 'life could be a lot worse.' However, he foresaw 'no net revival in new road construction'. Building Materials Producers economist Nina Ovanessian agreed. The BMP issued its summer forecast just days before the review and predicted a 1.5% increase in infrastructure spend next year and a 5.5% boost in 2000. She saw no reason to revise that forecast.

Pressure group Transport 2000 welcomed cuts in the programme, but like many in the road building lobby, was unhappy with decisions on 60 plus schemes being deferred to local authorities.

Assistant director Lynne Sloman predicted blight and uncertainty. She added: 'We want early guarantees that the proposed studies will aim to reduce traffic and shift it to other modes'.

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