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BIRT PROPOSES SUPERHIGHWAY TOLL ROADS

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A network of superhighways could be constructed alongside Britain's busiest motorways and trunk roads within the ne...
A network of superhighways could be constructed alongside Britain's busiest motorways and trunk roads within the next 25 years, reported The Observer (p2).

The roads, paid for by tolls, are to be proposed by former BBC director general Lord Birt, appointed as an unpaid adviser to the government's cabinet office think-tank, with a remit to deliver 'blue sky thinking' - or, alternatively, to think the unthinkable.

Lord Birt's associates say the proposed roads would run from city to city, and have fewer exits than existing motorways to increase the flow of high speed passenger and freight traffic. The proposal will be strongly opposed by environmental groups, particularly in the south east where new housebuilding already threatens the green belt.

Tony Blair will receive Lord Birt's report within a month. It is thought that it will also back congestion charges such as those proposed by London mayor Ken Livingstone. His£5-a-day toll was expected to be introduced next spring, but faces delay because of legal action from local authorities outside the toll area who fear it will lead to diverted traffic transferring on to their streets.

Lord Birt is expected to propose substantial cash compensation for rural residents affected by his proposals.

Writing in The Business (p20), former Conservative cabinet minister John Redwood said the UK is one of the richest countries in the world, but with third world transport, lacking capacity on roads, rail and runways.

His message is stop blaming the motorist and privatisation. Five years of clobbering the motorist have failed to tax or regulate them off the road. Roads were a public monopoly and needed attention to reduce accidents, for example, at dangerous junctions. The worst congestion in many areas occurred during the morning school run. The government and local authorities should aim for a bus alternative for most children.

Mr Redwood says if the government allowed it, the private sector could lead a big expansion of capacity on the trains, buses and roads, as was seen in telecoms when private money was given its head.

'The canals, turnpikes and railways were all built with private capital by competing companies. Let's try it again and have a new generation of new toll roads and railways to improve the networks', he concludes.

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