DISSENTERS from the previous A14 improvement scheme, which was abandoned on cost grounds in October 2010, said the Government had missed the opportunity to promote a radical alternative to road-building.

Lawyer Nita Tinn, whose Offords A14 Action Group caused the Highways Agency to admit it had got its own consultation procedures wrong and return to square two, said she was surprised the Government had not thought of anything more imaginative.

"It's a political exercise to appear to do something when they don't have any funding," she told The Hunts Post. "There's no money for a toll road, and I don't see how you can make people use a toll road, so it looks like a bit of political posturing.

"It would be a disaster for people in Huntingdon, Godmanchester and Brampton, who will have roads going all round them."

She said a toll road would inevitably be more expensive than an untolled road, because of the technology needed to levy the tolls, and rat-running to avoid payment would bring problems.

"Some roads that are not currently rat-runs would become rat-runs, such as in Hilton and Little Paxton, so I'm sceptical.

"It's a pity none of the alternatives is being pursued with any great vigour."

Nor did she believe the Government would be successful in attracting institutions such as pension funds to risk investing in capital projects of this kind. "They are cautious investors who are more likely to invest in schemes that are up and running," she said.

The pressure group Campaign for Better Transport said last week's announcement was Government spin.

Campaigner Sian Berry said the announcement was media co-ordination by the Government, "designed to show that they're doing something on the economy.

"Behind the spin, the reality is that it doesn't give the go-ahead to a large toll road through the Cambridgeshire countryside, but simply moves all the options into the next stage of consideration by the Department for Transport.

"We have already highlighted the many problems that stand in the way of building a toll road without prohibitive levels of taxpayer subsidy. And with a wide range of more sustainable measures still on the table for the A14 corridor, including serious bus improvements, the expansion of rail freight and smaller road proposals, we're confident that once these are evaluated in more detail the plans for a huge toll road will be deservedly dropped."