Industry leaders welcome £180bn boost for transport

While the government’s investment package has been widely welcomed by business, some critics fear that future administrations may not sustain the commitment By Helen Beasley

The government’s proposed £180bn 10-year investment package to improve the UK’s transport system has gained widespread approval from the business community. However, some critics have expressed doubts over whether future governments can be locked into the promises.

The plan, to be financed by both public and private funding, will provide £60bn to improve the railway system, £60bn for roads and a further £60bn for local transport over 10 years.

Announcing the scheme, the deputy prime minister John Prescott said the plan aimed to increase the number of rail passengers by 50%, and reduce road congestion by 5%.

The Confederation of British Industry described the plan as `a monumental victory’ for the business community.

Joe Quill, CBI senior policy adviser, says the organisation has been lobbying hard for a massive cash injection for the past six months. `The CBI has campaigned to increase the capacity of the road network, including targeted improvements on such obvious congestion blackspots as the M6 and the M25,’ he says.

Relieving congestion

Quill says speeding up transport will reduce the cost supplying components, and make companies more competitive by cutting overall costs.

The £60bn to tackle congestion on the roads will be spent on widening 360 miles of motorway and trunk roads, including a stretch of the M25, and improving 80 road junctions.

Richard Turner, the deputy director-general of the Freight Transport Association, says the plan is long overdue, and will give industry confidence in the future of its supply chains.

`We are delighted with the plan. We are fed up with the stop-start transport policies of successive governments,’ he says.

But he also warns that the spending could be reversed: `The problem is that the government has not got itself into a position to commit future governments to the plan. We need some sort of guarantee that this will be delivered beyond the length of this parliament,’ he says.

The FTA is keen on the plans to allow 44-tonne lorries on the UK’s roads from February 2001, which it says would benefit the economy and the environment.

At the same time as allowing larger lorries, the government is trying to get more freight onto the railways. A total of £4bn will be spent on trying to increase rail freight by 80% over 10 years.

Most of the money will go on passenger schemes, including up to 25 new light rail or tram lines to be introduced in big cities.

The transport infrastructure in London is expected to receive particular attention, and the city will get at least two new tram or guided bus systems, a new east-Thames river crossing and an east-west rail link.

UK train builders are positive about the plan – but they have have not started celebrating yet.

Andrew Walker, transport market analysis manager at Derby-based Adtranz, said: `Like a lot of these announcements, the devil is in the detail.’

Franchise renewals

He adds: `A lot will depend on companies securing franchise renewals, and any new light rail projects will depend on schemes securing planning permission. But in general terms we welcome the announcement.’

Total rail spending will rise by 50%, with £49bn for upgrading the network and building new trains, and £11.3bn in subsidies for loss-making franchises.

Other plans for the rail system include modernising the east- and west-coast main lines, and completion of the second phase of the channel tunnel rail link.

The government says train protection and warning systems are to be fitted throughout the rail network, and full automatic train protection will be installed on high-speed trains.