Peak-time use of the hard shoulder will replace infrastucture investment in motorway widening

The government has scrapped plans to invest £5bn in easing congestion on the road system, leading to reduced speed limits at peak times.

The money would have been spent on widening the country’s motorways. The M1, M6, M25 and M62 would all have been increased to four or more lanes under the proposal.

The AA said that the government is failing to face up to the long-term need for new capacity posed by a potential 37% capacity increase in road traffic by 2050.

However, green groups welcomed the policy shift. The Campaign for Better Transport said: “After years of giving road builders blank cheques, the government has finally accepted that tarmacking over the countryside to build ever-wider roads is too expensive to contemplate and does nothing to solve transport needs.”

Transport secretary Geoff Hoon said he is banking on the use of the “hard shoulder running” system to cope with the problem. Under the plans, hard shoulders are opened to traffic at busy times, with maximum speed limits of 60mph.

He failed to outline the U-turn with other transport announcements on Thursday.

RAC foundation director Stephen Glaister said the system is fine in the short term but will not solve longer-term problems: “Ministers have a strategy for the railways and they have a strategy for aviation. But they do not have one for roads,” he said.