THE CONSTRUCTION of Weymouth's relief road could start as soon as next year, after the Government provisionally agreed funding for the troubled project last week.
Transport secretary Douglas Alexander wrote to the South West Regional Assembly to con rm that the £77M project would receive funding within the next three years, if it gained planning permission.
Alexander's seal of approval came as part of his verdict on regional transport plans submitted by the eight English regions outside London.
Authorities were for the rst time asked to draw up lists prioritising projects by the Government last August. Bids for funding were submitted in February.
Alexander last week announced which schemes he would back up to 2008/9. He also outlined which projects would be eligible for funding from 2009/10 to 2015/16 providing they clear statutory hurdles.
Dorset County Council also has to prove the project could be completed in time for the London 2012 Olympics, when Weymouth will stage the Games' sailing events.
Insuffient funding means that priority projects in all of the eight regions have fallen out of plans, including six Highways Agency schemes and nine local authority schemes that had been previously approved (see map).
'Our public consultation has finished and we only have one outstanding objection to the scheme, from the Countryside Agency, ' said Dorset County Council head of highways and transport Mike White.
The Countryside Agency objects to the road, designed to relieve congestion along both the A354 from WeymouthDorchester and the A353 to the east, as it runs through a designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
'We are looking at the route with the Countryside Agency to demonstrate the alternatives we have considered, ' said White. 'I believe we have a solution that will have the least impact where it crosses the AONB.'
If the Countryside Agency is won round, the scheme would be likely to be granted planning permission by the end of the year, with construction starting at the end of 2007. But the local Department for Transport office could still intervene and order a public inquiry.
White said that even in this 'worst-case scenario' the 6km single carriageway, which will take three years to build, would be completed by early 2011, well ahead of the Olympics.
Environmental groups criticised the Government for approving the scheme.
Transport 2000 director Stephen Joseph said: 'Weymouth relief road was accepted for provisional approval in 2000.
'The route has changed three times since then and Dorset County Council has failed to convince anyone that the environmental problems can be resolved.'
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Transport secretary Douglas Alexander has axed six projects in the Highways Agency's targeted programme of improvements and nine local transport schemes that had previously been given government approval. Regional assemblies told Alexander that funding allocations to 2016 were not enough to pay for them. See map (above) for the axed schemes.