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UK Transport Projects 'Stuck In Slow Lane'

(c) Sky News 2012

The British Chambers of Commerce says too many transport schemes crucial to business growth are being sidelined by the Government.

Of 13 key projects identified as vital before the 2010 general election, just three are going ahead, with two having some funding committed and eight delayed, cancelled or under consideration.

BCC director of policy Dr Adam Marshall told Sky News that bold action was needed from the Government to improve transport infrastructure.

"We need to see projects delivered with some pace and some urgency," he said.

"We know there are limited resources available but business can deliver growth and jobs if it has the transport infrastructure it needs."

The three BCC-earmarked projects going ahead are:

:: Birmingham Motorway Scheme - Variable speed limits and cars using hard shoulder on M5, M6, M40 and M42, with work due to be completed in spring 2014

:: Forth Replacement Crossing: A replacement for the deteriorating existing road bridge was given the go ahead by the Scottish Government and Transport (Euronext: IXSTP.NX - news) for Scotland in January 2011 and will be complete by 2016

:: Crossrail, London: The cross-London rail link is well under way and expected to be fully operational in 2019, improving capacity across the capital.

The BCC said it had awarded an "amber light" to two projects where some funding had been committed and a planning process was under way, but there was no date for final delivery.

One of these was the so-called Northern Hub rail improvement scheme to deliver £4bn of benefits to the economy of northern England.

The BCC said the Government committed to the scheme in summer 2012, that planning was still in the very early stages and delivery of all projects was uncertain, "but there have been confident steps forward in recent months".

The other "amber" scheme was the A453 widening from the M1 junction 24 to the A52 at Nottingham in the East Midlands.

The BCC said construction was due to start in 2013 following a Government commitment to the project, but "more concrete steps need to be taken to push the project to its conclusion".

The rest of the 13 projects received the BCC "red" signal, including the scrapped third runway plan at Heathrow airport in west London and the delayed A14 road improvement scheme in East Anglia.

Others given a red light included the Cardiff-Newport M4 relief road scheme in Wales, the M1 Westlink project in Northern Ireland, the A19 improvement work around the Tyne Tunnel in north east England and the A303/A358 road improvement scheme to improve links to southwest England.

The BCC said: "While the Government has taken important steps to boost infrastructure funding and delivery since the first Budget, the updated assessment shows that too many transport projects, which are crucial to business growth, are stuck in the slow lane."

But Transport Minister Norman Baker insisted the issue was a "top priority" for the Government.

He said: "That is why, despite the economic challenges we face, we have committed to building HS2, a hugely ambitious infrastructure project which will support and sustain long-term growth across the whole country.

"In addition, our massive programme of investment - the biggest since the 19th Century (KSE: 002420.KS - news) - in the current railway system includes substantial investment to increase capacity on the East Coast Main Line over the next two years as well as £240m for the industry to spend on the route between 2014 and 2019.

"This is on top of the £1.8bn we are spending on local major transport projects and the £3bn we are providing to start work on 20 major road schemes and to complete work on another eight between 2010 and 2015."

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