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Time for a realistic transport strategy

AGENDA - COMMENT

THE COUNTRY is now at the halfway stage of the vaunted £180 billion transport plan. Yet five years in the view ahead for contractors is murkier than it has been at any time since 2000.

Big new rail schemes, part funded by the private sector, have fallen by the wayside.

Despite Government claims to the contrary, the road building programme is slipping, delayed first by the multimodal studies and now the switch of planning control to regional transport boards, which have yet to be firmly established.

Local authorities are warning that they are running out of money to maintain local roads.

Then there is last week's decision by Alastair Darling to abandon support for Leeds Supertram signalling the end of the line for the ambitious programme of 25 light rail schemes promised in the 10-year plan ? then a cornerstone of the integrated transport policy.

In short, it is abundantly clear to everybody, except it seems the Government, that the 10-year transport plan is not worth the paper it is written on.

What lies in its place are the Transport for the Future 2030 policy review and the Kelly Report into improving competition and increasing longterm capacity planning.

These are at best distractions. There are no capacity problems in the supply chain, simply because the transport projects that firms geared up to build are not coming through at present.

The country needs fewer transport planners and more people involved in delivery. It needs a funding stream that cannot be meddled with when the going gets tough.

In short, the country needs a transport strategy ? one that is grounded in the real world and one that sets out clear priorities for spending that can be relied on.

This may mean squeezing more from better management of existing assets, it may mean congestion charging, or maybe even switching freight from roads to rail.

There are many different ways of funding infrastructure improvements. Ploughing road taxes and congestion charges into improvements would be a start. But without an honest, grownup approach, our transport network will continue to fall behind our economic rivals and our supply chain will loose the skills needed to deliver it.

Is it too much to expect a clear idea of what will be built and when?