£15bn road-building plan revealed
"The biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades" has been announced by the Government.
But Labour accused Prime Minister David Cameron of having "a record on infrastructure that is one of all talk and no delivery" while the RAC Foundation warned that the road network would have to cope with an expected seven million more drivers within 20 years.
It has been pointed out that many of the 80 new English road schemes announced today in a £15 billion package are in key coalition constituencies but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "You don't make decisions like this based on a political map."
Mr Clegg was at Stonehenge, where the Government has announced that the A303 close to the famous stones will be put into a tunnel, thus easing conditions at a notorious bottleneck.
A total of £1.5 billion is being spent on adding extra lanes to some motorways, while i mprovements to junctions on the M25, to the A27 in Sussex, to approaches to Liverpool and to the A1 in the north east of England are also contained in the package.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said it was "the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades", while Chancellor George Osborne said it would "transform some of the country's most important strategic routes" .
Chief Secretary to the Treasury and chairman of the Cabinet infrastructure committee Danny Alexander said the projects would "help unleash the economic potential of both the regions they serve and of the overall economy".
But shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said: "The Government has 'announced' plans for road investment at least three times since 2013.
"We know David Cameron's record on infrastructure is one of all talk and no delivery. Hard-pressed motorists have been consistently let down by this Government."
While welcoming the road plans, the RAC Foundation said the number of road users will leap from 36 million to 43 million if current trends persist.
The foundation's director Professor Stephen Glaister said the country faced "massive challenges in unclogging our urban areas".
The schemes announced today include:
:: South West - £2 billion to dual the entire A303 and A358 to the South West, including a tunnel at Stonehenge. This will allow road users to drive on a dual carriageway from London to within 15 miles of Land's End;
:: North East - £290 million to complete the dualling of the A1 all the way from London to Ellingham, just 25 miles from the Scottish border;
:: North West and Yorkshire - Driving forward the Northern Powerhouse project by completing the smart (lane increasing) motorway along the entire length of the M62 from Manchester to Leeds, Together with improvements to transpennine capacity from Manchester to Sheffield, this represents the first increase in transpennine capacity since 1971;
:: North West - Improving links to the port of Liverpool, as part of a plan of 12 projects designed to improve access to major international gateways;
:: South East - £350 million of improvements to the A27 along the south coast, tackling severe congestion at Arundel, Worthing and Lewes;
:: East of England - £300 million to upgrade the east-west connection to Norfolk, by dualling sections of the A47 and improving its connections to the A1 and A11;
:: London and the South East - Improving one-third of the junctions on the entire M25, Britain's busiest motorway;
:: Midlands: improving the M42 to the east of Birmingham, improving the connectivity to Birmingham airport, the National Exhibition Centre, the local Enterprise Zone, and pave the way for the new High Speed 2 interchange station.
The roads package also includes more details of the already-announced plan to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company. The Government says this will mean funding can be allocated on a longer-term basis, saving the taxpayer at least £2.6 billion over the next 10 years.
There will also be £100 million to improve cycling provision at 200 key locations across the network, as well as a commitment to cycle-proof any new schemes being developed.
Also, there will be a £300 million environmental fund to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce the number of people affected by serious noise by 250,000.
This fund will create new charge points for low-emission vehicles every 20 miles across the road network, as well as enhance the landscape, protect sites of cultural or historic heritage, and reduce the impact of improving the roads on wildlife, countryside and habitats,
In addition there will be £100 million to unlock future growth and housing developments.
Spending during the next parliament on England's roads network will be boosted further by maintenance funding worth more than £10 billion across the local and national road network.
Chancellor George Osborne said the package would "transform some of the country's most important strategic routes", while Chief Secretary to the Treasury and chairman of the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee Danny Alexander said it would "help unleash the economic potential of both the regions they serve and of the overall economy".
Mr Clegg said: "You don't make decisions like this based on a political map, you make these decisions based on the economic map and the geographic layout of our county to make sure that all parts of our country are properly linked."
He added that the route across the Pennines would benefit an area with "lots and lots of Labour MPs".
The AA welcomed the plans, saying it hoped this would mark an end to "the stop-start mess experienced over the last few decades".
The CBI said the roads strategy marked "a significant milestone in our journey towards the delivery of much-needed upgrades to our existing road network, the arteries of our economy".
But the Campaign for Better Transport said: "The plan will prove a counter-productive waste of money. There is no evidence that building new roads creates jobs or benefits the economy and plenty of evidence that it creates new traffic that just fills up the roads again."
Mr Cameron, who followed Mr Clegg in visiting Stonehenge after the announcement of money for the tunnel project, said there was an "unstoppable momentum" behind the scheme.
He said: "I think we are both delighted that it is going ahead because it's been the work of our Government to get the Government's finances under control.
"But frankly the more politicians that come here and say it's good that we are building the roads the country needs, frankly the happier I will be."
Asked whether the project would go ahead even if there was a change of government in May, Mr Cameron said: "It has unstoppable momentum now, because the plan for the tunnel is robust, the money in the national budget is there, the vital importance of infrastructure is now accepted by everybody. I think this is now unstoppable."
Speaking on a visit to a factory in Corby, Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Re-announcing road schemes is not going to build a recovery that really works for working people.
"The real story of this Autumn Statement is the truth is catching up with David Cameron and George Osborne.
"They haven't built a recovery that works for working people: that's what people feel and that's why they've failed on the deficit."