In a letter to the panel conducting the East of England Plan public examination, the Department for Transport says that the stretch of road between Stansted Airport and Cambridgeshire does not need widening.
It has reached this view despite the area's key role in plans for major housing growth and the fact that the proposal was recommended in a multi-modal study by Faber Maunsell two years ago (Planning, 14 February 2003, p6).
In the letter, the department explains that detailed modelling by the Highways Agency suggests that widening the M11 between junctions 8 and 9 from two to three lanes is "not justified" over the next ten years.
It adds: "Even after allowing for increased traffic from the proposed expansion of Stansted Airport and from housing in the M11 growth area, the agency's traffic modelling work suggests that this section should have the capacity to cater for growth until 2021."
The letter says that the main reason for the decision is that, unlike other routes, traffic on this section of road remains steady through most of the day without rush hour increases. "This means that the M11 between junctions 8 and 9 can cater for high daily traffic flows without the two-lane capacity being exceeded during peak periods," it claims.
But East of England Regional Assembly chairwoman Sue Sida-Lockett described the letter as an "outrageous U-turn". She added: "It is another example of short-term decision-making and a lack of joined-up thinking by Whitehall."
The decision "will completely undermine the assembly's confidence in the government's promise of no additional housing without the necessary infrastructure", argued Sida-Lockett.