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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
7bn scheme to tackle congestion
M25 London orbital motorway near Staines
A feasibility study on road charging was announced
A 7bn road building programme has been announced - the biggest expansion of the motorway network for more than a decade.

It includes widening most of the M25 from three to four lanes and large parts of the M1.

But a series of environmentally damaging road schemes have been scrapped.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling also proposed long-term plans for nationwide road charging by launching a discussion paper.

Environmental campaigners say the road building will not solve congestion and will cause health problems, as well as further spoiling the countryside.

MAJOR NEW SCHEMES
1: M25 - Remaining six lane stretches widened to eight
2: M1 south - Widened between London and Milton Keynes (junctions 6a to 13)
3: M1 North - Widened from junction 30 to 42 (Leeds)
4: M62 - Widened from junctions 25 to 32
5: M18 - Widened from junctions 1 to 3
6: M11 - Widened from junctions 8 to 9
7: M54 - Link road built to M6

But road freight bosses are among those who say larger motorways are the only way to ease congestion in the short term.

Mr Darling said: "This new investment in our major transport corridors will deliver real improvements for people and businesses across the country".

He told the Commons the new roads were needed to cope with extra traffic as the economy grows, but building in areas of natural beauty could not be justified.

A controversial bypass around Arundel in West Sussex that would pass through water meadows and ancient woodlands was rejected.

And a flyover near Chichester and tunnel at Worthing also will not be built for environmental reasons.

Mr Darling acknowledged the next 20-30 years would see increasing pressure on the roads.

"We will not be able to build our way out of all the pressures we will face".

As a pilot project, cars on the M42 will be allowed to use the hard shoulder at peak hours with more roads possibly to follow.

A package of improvements on the M1, M18, M62 and the A1/A1(M) in Yorkshire was also announced.

In addition, the M1 between the M25 and Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire is to be widened to four lanes at a cost of 623m.

On the railways, new services between Ashford and Brighton, London and Leeds via Nottingham and the possibility of reopening the Bedford to Oxford route are being examined.

And up to 1bn will be spent on local transport in the West Midlands over seven years.

Roger Higman, of Friends of the Earth, called the road-building a "futile gesture" which would see congestion back to square one.

"All the evidence suggests we'd get at best three years' worth of congestion-free motoring, and then traffic builds up, we have more pollution, more congestion in the future," he told BBC News.

The programme is a far cry from Labour's policy on transport since the 1997 General Election, when it brought in a moratorium on road-building.

But opposition MPs and transport groups said the UK road system needed to be brought up to European standards.

'Belated' measure

Shadow transport secretary Tim Collins said the programme was "hugely belated".

UK'S MOST CONGESTED ROADS
M6 Junctions 4 - 11, north and north west of Birmingham. Includes junction with M5.
M25 Junctions 10 - 21A, west of London. Includes junctions with M3, M4 and M40.
M25 Junctions 21A - 28, north of London. Includes junctions with M1 and M11.
M1 Junctions 6A - 13, north of London.

Since 1997 Labour had seemed to believe "if they stuck their heads in the sand and refused to build any new roads at all, then the needs of business and motorists would simply go away", he argued.

The AA's John Dawson said the expansion was "just a fraction of what is routine in France and Germany".

And Geoff Dossetter, of the Freight Transport Association, said it was a belated step in the right direction.

"The government's initial policy of putting a moratorium on all road-building was completely wrong."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The UK's roads are the most congested in Europe"


Alistair Darling, transport secretary
"You cannot build your way out of all of the problems you face"



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