Highways England is set to be bolstered by a massive £25.5bn of funding for major road upgrades between 2020 and 2025 with an extra £3.5bn being made available to councils for important local routes, the chancellor has revealed in the autumn Budget 2018.
While in an attempt to solve the ever-increasing problem of potholes on UK roads, councils are set to be provided with an extra £420m to minimise the impact on motorists.
The figure being offered falls much shorter than that advised earlier this year by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) which found that 12% of the local road network – equivalent to 24,400 miles - is in need of “essential maintenance” within the next year.
The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey that aims to take a snapshot of the general condition of the local road network reported the gap between the funds councils in England and Wales received and the amount they actually needed to keep the carriageway in reasonable order was almost £556m – a shortfall of £3.3m for every authority. It’s estimated a one-off cost amounting to £9.3bn would be needed to get roads back into a reasonable condition.
However, RAC chief engineer David Bizley has said the announcement was “good news” for the nation’s motorists. “While the focus of this cash injection is strategic and major roads it is also positive that other local roads will benefit to some extent,” he said. “But what is also needed going forward is similar long-term strategy and funding for the maintenance and improvement of all local roads so that we can over perhaps 10 years eliminate the backlog in preventative maintenance that has led to so many potholes appearing during periods of adverse weather.”
Funding announcements for UK roads:
- £420m for potholes – the chancellor revealed councils in England will get an extra £420m to tackle potholes
- £150m for local road junctions – councils in England will also be given an extra £150 to improve road junctions on local roads.
- Transforming Cities Fund – The fund will be extended to £2.4bn to support local “sustainable” including new buses, trams and cycling routes.
- £90m for Future transport – the chancellor also set aside £90m to trial next-generation methods of transport, with the creation of new “future mobility zones” in three city regions.
Labour has responded by arguing there needs to be more of a focus on public transport. Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “With car dependency rising, public transport in decline and local roads in a state of disrepair, ramping up spending on major roads is the wrong decision. It simply isn’t sustainable to repeatedly ramp-up major road spending, especially at a time when air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths each year and climate change is threatening a global crisis.”
While environmental groups like Friends of the Earth has reacted angrily to the road-centric funding deals. Campaigns director Liz Hutchins said: “Doesn’t Philip Hammond read the news? Earlier this month UN scientists warned that we only have a dozen years to prevent catastrophic climate change.” “Yet rather than investing in a low-carbon economy, the chancellor is gearing up to create more pollution that wrecks our climate and damages our health.”
Matthew Lugg, technical director at WSP and CIHT president said the funding for potholes will be "very welcomed news for cash-strapped English local highway authorities".
"The extra funding for structures is equally important as there is increasing concern about the resilience of many bridges that are now coming to the end of their design life," he added. "It is important that this funding is targeted to where it is most needed and local authorities are not required to go through a lengthy bidding process. This extra funding will make a difference, but there’s a need for a more effective long-term solution to tackle the national maintenance backlog estimated at around £8bn. As CIHT President I’m leading a review (the Lugg Review) into the future options of funding and maintaining local roads in time to feed into the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2019.”