A FIERCE critic of plans to widen part of a Hampshire commuter route says he has been told the project will cost at least £76m.

County councillor David Harrison has launched an outspoken attack on proposals to upgrade the A326 between Totton and Marchwood by extending an existing section of dual carriageway.

He claimed the scheme is an "enabling project" that will pave the way for port-related development on the New Forest side of Southampton Water.

Writing on social media Cllr Harrison said he asked the county council how much the work would cost and was given an "eye-watering" estimate.

He added: "It's often the case that large projects like this increase in cost as more detailed studies are undertaken. Even more shocking, the figure does not include the cost of compensating homeowners who will qualify for large payouts if the scheme goes ahead.

"Hampshire County Council is hoping the government will fully fund the scheme. Of course, the reality is that we taxpayers will be picking up the bill."

Cllr Harrison said the scheme represented poor value for money as it would only provide a dual carriageway from the M27 down to Staplewood Lane, Marchwood.

"The few seconds it will save on journey times is not worth it," he said.

"Those of us who follow these things closely know this whole scheme isn't really about easing traffic congestion, it's an 'enabling' scheme to clear the way for development of port-related activity in Marchwood and Dibden."

Cllr Rob Humby, the county council's deputy leader and executive lead for transport, said no final decisions had been made.

He added: "It is true the Waterside has enormous potential for economic growth of national significance and future decisions will be made, to that end, at a national level.

"Therefore, the scheme development and planning work we're doing now will put us in the best possible position to fully understand the impacts of growth and how this might be best mitigated."

A county council spokesperson added: "The current estimate for the total cost of improvements to eight junctions on the A326 and widening of the road, which was identified in the Strategic Outline Business Case submitted to Government, is circa £76m.

"However this option, which was one of three options presented in that business case, is still at a pre-feasibility design stage and the final estimate is likely to change given that only high-level outline design work has been undertaken to date.

"Progression of the scheme to the next stage of development will be subject to government funding."

An Associated British Ports spokesperson said: “The county council have been exploring a number of options to improve access to and through the Waterside for a number of years.

"These include improvements to road and potentially rail access over time.

"With over 100 organisations based on our sites in Eling Wharf and Marchwood Industrial Park we support plans to progressively improve access along the Waterside.”