More details of the Government’s spending plans are beginning to trickle out in the run up to George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday. Today it fleshed out a £15bn plan to triple spending on Britain’s roads, a move welcomed by business groups.
In the future motorists hoping to snatch a glimpse of Stonehenge will be forced to stop and get out, as the Government plans to put the A303 in a tunnel beside the ancient monument. The road is notoriously bad for traffic, leaving motorists frustrated and tourists unable to enjoy the stone circle.
The plans are much more extensive than one tunnel though. Adding extra lanes to the A303 and A358 will make it possible to drive on a dual carriageway almost all of the way from London to Land’s End in deepest, darkest Cornwall.There are also plans to widen the A1 north of Newcastle, turn the M62 between Manchester and Leeds into a four-lane ‘smart motorway’ (whatever that is) and improve one third of junctions on London’s M25.
‘Today I am setting out the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades,’ said the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. ‘It will dramatically improve our road network and unlock Britain’s economic potential. Roads are key to our nation’s prosperity. For too long they have suffered from under-investment.’
The Highways Agency will also be given a clearer picture of where its focus should be. Rather than ad-hoc projects it will be given guaranteed five-year funding pledges, making its role more akin to that of Network Rail.
The CBI welcomed the move after previously calling for changes to be made at Stonehenge. Its director-general John Cridland said, 'This five-year strategy marks a significant milestone in our journey towards the delivery of much-needed upgrades to our existing road network, the arteries of our economy.'
Labour wasn’t impressed (surprise surprise), criticising what they claim is the Government tendency to re-announce policies and spending commitments to generate more publicity without actually doing anything.
‘We know David Cameron’s record on infrastructure is one of all talk and no delivery,’ said Labour’s shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, adding that less than one third of announced projects are actually under construction.
‘If Ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists who have been consistently let down by this Government.’
Politicians (including Labour ones) do indeed have a history of announcing big road building programmes before ditching them when the costs begin to build up. Anyone who’s ever sat in gridlock with a painfully distant view of Stonehenge will be hoping that on this occasion the Government does actually deliver.