Treasury doubles road plans as General Election approaches

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander arrives at Downing Street
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander arrives at Downing Street
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Ministers have been criticised for rushing out road spending announcements that suddenly doubled Yorkshire investment less than six months from a General Election.

In four years of coalition Government work has been confirmed or started on at just five major road projects across Yorkshire despite ongoing investment calls.

But yesterday chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander more than doubled that with a pre-Autumn Statement announcement of 11 road improvements, including many junction upgrades to help Manchester-Sheffield links.

None of the announced roads will be funded or started this financial year, with much of the £1.4bn of new Yorkshire cash coming later in the five years after the next general election.

The promise of future investment comes as the Treasury prepares to announce more funds for flood defences and rural broadband, prompting Labour questions how the government can afford many of the projects announced.

“This is the largest road funding announcement since the 1970s,” Mr Alexander insisted.

“It is a core part of our plan for the economy. This is a Government focused on rebalancing the economy.”

Road minister John Hayes insisted the projects announced were par of a long term planning system, saying the Government had a vision for the north.

He said: “The key thing about the north is it is a relatively small number of roads, the M1, M62, A19. Critical roads across the north East

“There have been calls for work on all of these for a considerable time.”

But Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary and Barnsley East MP, said the timing was suspicious.

“Ministers will be judged not on what they promise to deliver in the next Parliament, but on what they have actually delivered in this one - and the truth is barely a shovel has been used in anger on our nation’s highways over the last four and a half years.”

Tim Hale, chair of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce’s Transport Forum, welcomed the announcement but added: “Moving freight off the roads would also be an enormous boost to freeing up the road network, and it is the combination of road and rail infrastructure investment that will help the Northern cities become the Powerhouses that they should be.”

The full package of newly committed projects in Yorkshire includes M1 junction 45 improvements, M621 junctions 1 to 7 improvements, M62 Chain Bar investment with a direct link westbound to the M606.

There is also a further use of “smart motorway” conditions on the M62 junctions 20 to 25, removing the hard shoulder to provide a four-lane motorway, considertaion for two overtaking lanes on the A638 near Woodhead bridge and Salter’s Brook bridge and dualling of the A61 north of Sheffield.

The Department for Transport also made clear which schemes will see work started on paper at least over the next five years, including more motorway standard work on the A1 and junction upgrades on the M1.

This included a long term aim for a £6bn tunnel under the Pennines to speed up East West connections.