Although Transport Secretary Alistair Darling announced plans to drop some of the more controversial schemes, including the Arundel bypass and the road scheme in the West Midlands green belt, green groups are claiming that road widening will not ease traffic problems.
Stephen Johnson, director of environmental group Transport 2000, rebuked plans to add extra lanes to the M1, M25, M11, M18 and M62.
He said: 'Widening roads will not solve congestion. It will simply put more cars on the road and make things worse. It will be bad for motorists and bad for the environment. The M25 Orbit Study itself said that widening alone will simply lead to bigger, wider traffic jams and that charging would be needed to improve the situation. The Government's decision ignores this, a feasibility study on charging is welcome but simply not enough.'
The study, announced by Darling, pledges to look at the practicalities of introducing a road charging scheme, which could see fleet drivers charged for using the most congested roads at peak times. However, if the decision is made to introduce road charging, it would take several years before it is fully introduced.
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth believes a more immediate solution needs to be found.
Tony Bosworth, the group's transport campaigner, said: 'This announcement is just a giant, expensive and futile sticking plaster applied to the running sore that is Britain's transport crisis. Of course we are pleased that some of the worst proposed schemes have been dropped but other damaging road schemes remain.
'The Government is still entranced by the idea that road building can solve Britain's transport crisis. But as has been proved time and again, it can't and won't. More roads mean more cars, more pollution and more congestion. We haven't got 10 years to wait for road charging to begin.'
But Darling defended the scheme in the House of Commons, saying: 'We've adopted a measured and balanced approach, targeting action where it is most needed, making better use of existing capacity, investing in public transport and strategic increases in capacity.'
However, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) believes road widening will not remedy current traffic levels. Paul Hamblin, head of transport policy at the CPRE, said: 'Simply accommodating unsustainable demand to travel will inevitably mean more clashes with the Government's environmental commitments. It is time to recognise that earlier Government statements that we cannot build ourselves out of the problem should mean just that. The M25 is one of the best examples of expanding roads leading to more traffic. Widening it before charging is in place would be a retrograde step.'
Fleets praised the Government's plans when they were first announced last year (Fleet NewsNet December 19, 2002) and a recent 'Company Barclaycard Travel in Business Survey' found that 45% of respondents claimed that they missed a meeting, went absent or were late on a weekly basis due to congestion.