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Roads contractors blast regional board 'shambles'

Contractors are growing increasingly anxious about the effect regional transport boards will have on road building as more and more schemes are postponed.
Companies are worried that uncertainty over the role of the boards is causing project delays and they voiced these concerns at the annual Highways Agency Roads Conference in Manchester last week.

One industry source said: 'It is an absolute shambles. No one knows how they are supposed to be properly administered.'

In 2004 the Department for Transport announced that all road projects of regional importance would be decided by eight new regional transport boards independent of the Highways Agency.

But the project has stalled and has only been tested in two pilot regions. Local politicians in the north-west have snubbed the scheme completely by setting up a board of their own.

One contractor said: 'The real truth is that many regions just don't want to play a part in these boards and whilst all this is being fought out we are losing work that could have been decided on and put out for tender.'

Highways Agency divisional director Richard Eastman, speaking at the conference, said: 'The Highways Agency has to be a key player in these boards, but it is down to key regional players to make sure the scheme is made.

'We know it will depend on decisions made by the secretary of state for transport.

All schemes in each year add up to a budget and then the secretary of state approves it.'

While debate over the role of the boards continues, regional road schemes are grinding to a halt.

The £25 million A47 improvement in Norwich has been put on hold for over a year. Nuttall won the contract in early 2004, but is still waiting for a decision from the regional transport board, which has not yet been set up in the east of England.

One source close to the company said: 'As a contractor we regard the regional transport board as a jaundiced way of delaying the much needed infrastructure

improvement on our roads.'

By Stephanie Hendries