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John Watts, minister for railways, roads and local transport today launched the first environmental strategy for En...
John Watts, minister for railways, roads and local transport today launched the first environmental strategy for England's main roads. This sets out clearly the Highways Agency's commitment to providing an environmentally acceptable trunk road network.

The booklet, 'Living with roads', outlines the environmental effects of roads and identifies how the Agency works to balance the demands of road users, taxpayers and those affected by roads to minimise these effects.

Launching the strategy at the opening of the Bedford Southern bypass, John Watts said: 'This new bypass is an excellent example of how these competing demands - environment, freedom of choice, value for money - can be met successfully. It will have tremendous benefits for people living and working in Bedford by reducing pollution, noise and congestion from the town and giving through traffic more reliable journeys.

'During construction, two wetland areas have been created and altogether some 110,000 trees and shrubs of native species will be planted, along the route and on adjoining land, to help blend the new road into the landscape and provide valuable habitats for wildlife.

'The strategy lays down the environmental performance people can expect from the agency. It also provides details of how the Agency plans to improve that performance in the coming twelve months and over the next five years.'

The strategy was put together by the agency's environmental policy division who have worked closely with a wide range of opinion formers, from engineers to national environmental organisations to pressure groups comprising concerned individuals.

Mr Watts added: 'Many organisations and individuals have a keen interest in the work of the agency and are concerned about the effects of roads. The agency is building upon this to develop a more customer focused approach, responding to those concerns and taking other people's views on board to help decide if there are areas of environmental performance which could be improved.'

Underpinning the agency's environmental strategy is a comprehensive research programme, worth £13 million in 1996/7, designed to improve quality and performance and introduce innovation into all aspects of road construction and maintenance. Research projects described in 'Living with roads' which form part of that programme include:

-- the use of quieter road surfaces and other noise protection measures, including using transparent and absorbent materials in noise barriers;

-- the problems of establishing trees in the urban environment;

-- the use breeding birds make of roadside verges and the effect of roads on barn owls;

-- the effect which the controlled motorway pilot on the M25 has on vehicle emissions and air quality, as well as the quality of air breathed by motorists inside their vehicles;

-- the use of industrial by-products, including tyres, crushed concrete, pulverised fuel ash and blast furnace slag in roadbuilding; - techniques which allow less salt to be spread on roads to prevent freezing.

The booklet gives examples which demonstrate the action already taken to improve the appearance of the network and reduce the adverse impact of roads on wildlife, plants and communities.

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