UK Politics

Coalition backs 16 road and bus improvement schemes

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has given the green light for 16 road and bus improvement schemes which he says are a "key driver" of future growth.

The projects approved include upgrades to sections of the M1, M60, M6 and M25 to relieve major congestion spots.

Ministers have axed a host of road schemes and said rail fares will rise as overall transport funding is cut.

Labour said Mr Hammond had "overspun" the support given to transport and rail passengers would be badly hit.

In last week's Spending Review, Chancellor George Osborne revealed that transport funding will fall by 15% over the next four years with capital expenditure on new infrastructure down by 11% over the period.

'Priority'

But the government has said it is committed to spending £30bn on critical national infrastructure in an effort to stimulate growth and has pledged to protect funding for a number of high profile transport projects including Crossrail and Tube upgrades in London and a new Mersey Gateway road bridge near Runcorn.

Mr Hammond told Parliament that transport remained a "priority" and 16 schemes had been approved in addition to eight others confirmed in the Spending Review.

The schemes - many of which have been years in development - were earmarked to go ahead under the last Labour government but were subject to review by the coalition as it seeks to make £81bn in spending cuts.

"This government sees transport as a key driver of growth nationally and in the regions," Mr Hammond said.

"Transport is vital to securing the UK's long term prosperity. That is why these schemes are so important and why I will continue to argue for investment which delivers long-term benefits for both the travelling public and the economy as a whole."

Mr Hammond confirmed that upgrades to some of the busiest sections of the motorway network - either by widening or other traffic management measures - will go ahead. They are:

•M60 Junctions 8 - 12

•M1 Junctions 32 - 35a

•M60 Junctions 12 - 15

•M1 Junctions 39 - 42

•M62 Junctions 18 - 20

•M25 Junctions 5 - 6/7

•M25 Junctions 23 - 27

•M6 Junctions 5 - 8

•A556 Knutsford - Bowdon

However, he gave no timescales for their completion.

Other road, rail and integrated transport improvements in Ipswich, Mansfield, Taunton, Exeter, Lancaster, Leeds, Sefton and Todwick will also proceed.

Separately, councils can bid for £600m in additional money to support local projects but Mr Hammond told the BBC that just over half of applications received would be funded.

'Already overcrowded'

The projects are in addition to a number of major schemes - including the widening of the A11 in Norfolk, added capacity on the M62 and congestion-reduction measures on the M4 and M5 north of Bristol and the A23 in Sussex - safeguarded in the Spending Review.

But other planned upgrades to trunk roads are to be axed, included an estimated £1bn refit of a stretch of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle said she "welcomed" the news that road projects would go ahead, saying investment in transport was "critical" for supporting industry and rebalancing the economy.

But she said the decision to lift the cap on regulated rail fares from 1% above retail price inflation (RPI) to 3% above RPI from 2012 would result in forcing people back onto "already overcrowded" roads.

Some passengers faced having to pay 33% more for tickets by 2015, she said, at a time when household budgets were under real pressure.

"How much more can commuters be expected to take?" she said.

Ministers are committed to spending £2.1bn on upgrading London Kings Cross, Birmingham New Street, Reading and Gatwick Airport stations while launching a consultation on the proposed first stage of the high-speed rail link in January.

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