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Treasury pulls plug on final A74 upgrade

SCOTLAND'S long-promised motorway link with England and vital European markets could be delayed indefinitely following the Department of Transport's decision to downgrade completion of the final six-mile section of the M6 -- just over the Border -- to a ''long-term'' project.

The CBI in Scotland and the RAC were dismayed that the strategic road connection north of Carlisle was a victim of yesterday's Government announcement of a drastic slowing down of its #2000m a year road-building programme.

CBI Scotland's director, Mr Lex Gold, described the decision to reduce the project from grade one to grade three status as ''a disgrace and breach of commitments'' made by the then Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rifkind during the 1987 General Election campaign.

He said: ''Just as the end of the Scottish upgrading of the A74 to motorway status is in sight, with 80% of the 70-mile route between Glasgow and the Border complete or underway, the ship is being spoiled for a ha'penny worth of tar.''

Mr Gold said that if the Cumbrian scheme between Carlisle and Guardsmill was sacrificed, it would jeopardise the concept of transforming an upgraded A74 into the M6 running from Glasgow to near Coventry.

He added: ''We are very disappointed indeed by this part of the programme revision. This will mean that for now and many years, road users will face a six-mile dual carriageway between an excellent Scottish motorway and before the road widens for the existing M6.''

This was unacceptable to the CBI in Scotland and the business community as a whole, frustrating the plan to have a three-lane link between central Scotland and increasingly important European markets, via the Channel Tunnel.

Mr Gold added: ''We will be taking this matter up with the Government and seeking reinstatement of what could be a glaring missing link with Scotland's communications and transport infrastructure.''

RAC Scotland's spokesman, Sue Nicholson, described the decision as ''crazy and hopefully an aberration''. She argued that when the road was eventually completed, its cost would be far higher than existing estimates.

The RAC official said: ''This is another case of being penny wise and pound foolish. I doubt if it has anything to do with being sensitive to green issues. It is part of the Exchequer's broad brush approach, an administrative decision which overlooks strategic and national Scottish interests.''

Both the RAC and AA are concerned that traffic funnelling north and south from modern motorway systems into a six-mile deregulated dual carriageway is a recipe for potential road safety hazards.

Completing the Glasgow-Carlisle motorway link was a central part of the Tories' 1987 election platform in Scotland and rapid progress with creating a motorway connection with England has been sustained at almost break-neck pace, north of the Border.

The irony that a Department of Transport strategy is bound to embarrass both Scottish Secretary Ian Lang and Roads Minister Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. They will not escape Tory supporters and Opposition MPs alike.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Office's list of road building priorities should be unveiled within two weeks with politicians, the Scottish business community, and transport analysts keen to discover if funding for the M74-M8 Clydeside link is put at risk. It is considered by CBI Scotland as a top priority and ripe for ''shadow tolling'' with the Exchequer paying the contractor on the basis of traffic volume.

It is believed that Transport Secretary John MacGregor warned his Scottish Office colleagues about the downgrading of the English part of the A74 motorway project during a visit to Scotland last Friday.

Meanwhile, the upgrading to dual carriageway of the Perth to Aberdeen road, first promised by the Government 15 years ago at the height of the oil boom, was completed yesterday with the opening of the four-mile Brechin by-pass.

The next stage in the dualling of the A1 south of Edinburgh, on the 7.5-mile stretch from Bankton roundabout to Haddington was approved yesterday.

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