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Transport strategy fails to please campaigners.

Byline: PATRICE JOHN

Campaigners and politicians have reacted angrily to government plans to approve a range of road schemes as part of a regional funding bid.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has given its backing to a 20-year transport strategy for the West Midlands as part of the Regional Funding Advice (RFA) to Government.

The document details transport priorities and includes proposals for metro extensions in Birmingham city centre, Wolverhampton and the Shrewsbury North Western Relief Road.

Although there was praise for the metro plans, Coun Jon Hunt (Lib Dem, Perry Barr) was sceptical about the lack of public transport projects and emphasis on local rail.

Coun Hunt, who is Centro's lead member for Bus and Highways, said: "The Government's response is good news for the region but I do think this decision will divert funding to lots of expensive road schemes.

"Local rail networks could do with that money as the system has been creaking at the seams for years.

"When you look at projects like the Shrewsbury north-west relief road and the amount of money that could be spent on it, I think the DfT might have got a lot of things out of proportion.

"Yet more money will be poured into roads while public transport is left as the poor relation."

RFA was formulated by the passenger transport authority Centro and partners including Advantage West Midlands and Government Office for the West Midlands, the Highways Agency and local authorities.

Centro asked the DfT for pounds 25 million towards the pounds 55 million Birmingham metro extension from Snow Hill to New Street station and pounds 53m of the pounds 70m circular route around Wolverhampton.

Other projects considered also included: n pounds 32.7 million for Red Routes Packages one and two n pounds 85 million Shrewsbury North Western Relief Road n pounds 20 million towards the Longbridge Hub n pounds 46 million Worcester Integrated Transport Strategy Gerald Kells, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the Shrewsbury scheme would destroy the countryside.

He said: "The government will not persuade people it is serious about protecting the countryside and combating climate change if it continues to support large-scale road proposals and massive park and ride sites in open countryside.

"The region desperately needs improvements to public transport and projects which reduce climate change emissions, not large road schemes driven through the open countryside."

His views were echoed by Chris Crean, of West Midlands Friends of the Earth.

"Just one week after the Government pledged to cut carbon emissions from transport, it has fallen at the first hurdle," he said.

"Waving through proposals for new high-carbon roads risks increasing carbon emissions from transport - not reducing them."

Birmingham Chamber of Commerce cautiously welcomed the news but felt the business case for Metro would still need to be proven.

Senior Policy Adviser Katie Teasdale said: "It remains the case that the business jury is 'out' on any Metro extension until we have the opportunity to examine the business case for it.

"However, we welcome today's announcement which we hope will spur investment in the expansion and enhancement of congestion-busting schemes like red routes as well as improvements in public transport provision in our region."

Centro must now submit the business case for the Metro to the DfT for approval.

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New red routes will form part of a range of future measures in the 20-year regional transport strategy
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 24, 2009
Words:571
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