Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Road funding must increase - MPs

MPs have said there needs to be a big increase in Government funding for England's major road network if traffic forecasts are correct.

But any move towards using road charging to pay for the extra funding would need a consensus, said the House of Commons Transport Committee.

In a report the committee added that it was "not convinced" by the case for establishing the Highways Agency, the body responsible for England's motorways and major A-roads, as a Government-owned company.

Motoring groups generally welcomed the report but the Campaign for Better Transport said there was "a need to replace the dash for tarmac with co-ordinated decisions bringing together road, rail and local transport".

The report - Improving England's Strategic Road Network (SRN) - said Government investment in England's major roads would need to increase "substantially" during the next decade if traffic forecasts are correct.

With income from fuel duty likely to decline due to the increase in greener vehicles, investment in roads will "require new funding streams", the MPs added.

Such a challenge must be addressed, said the committee, but it added that a consensus would be required if any charging scheme was introduced for major roads.

"Many issues would have to be resolved", the MPs concluded.

Launching the report, the committee's chairman Louise Ellman said: "The SRN is a crucial part of our national transport system but has suffered from inconsistent funding and policy over the past 20 years.

"If the traffic forecasts are correct, then government will need to increase investment in the road network substantially over the next decade - a period when we also know that tax revenues from fuel duty are bound to decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient.

"Against that backdrop the committee is calling on all relevant stakeholders to build a new cross-party consensus around how to raise the money required to modernise the UK's road network."

The committee also published another report on the policy for national networks.

The committee called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to:

:: Specify more types of transport scheme that are needed - such as enhancements to promote regional economic development, better east-west connectivity on the railways, better road and rail connections to ports and airports and to parts of the country not well served by existing infrastructure.

:: Be more candid about the adverse impacts of major transport schemes on local networks and localities. Provide clearer guidance about when the benefits arising from any scheme would justify such impacts.

:: Address criticisms of the DfT's road and rail demand forecasts more explicitly.

:: Include an estimate of the impact on UK carbon emissions of meeting projected demand for growth in road traffic by building more road infrastructure.

:: Make explicit reference to the desirability of connecting HS2 to the rail network, to ensure more people from around the UK can benefit from the new high-speed line.

:: Require promoters of roads schemes to embed improvements in road safety for all road users including pedestrians and cyclists.

Mrs Ellman said: "The DfT must plan for new road and rail investment by looking at future passenger and freight demand by route or region, not by looking at road or rail in isolation from each other, as is done at the moment."

A DfT spokeswoman said: "We are tripling the amount of investment in our roads to over £3 billion a year and will spend £28 billion up to 2021.

"Our reforms to the Highways Agency will make sure this money is spent efficiently by introducing long-term funding and independent scrutiny.

"Alongside our national policy statement which supports a balanced package of developments across the road and rail networks - including investment in sustainable transport - our plans will ensure road users get a network that is fit for the 21st century."

Campaign for Better Transport's roads campaigner Sian Berry said: "The committee has comprehensively rubbished nearly every aspect of the Government's flagship roads policy. Importantly, the MPs have condemned the DfT's traffic forecasts, which are being used to justify £28 billion of road-building plans.

"The report shows Government must stop making plans for big new trunk roads across the countryside and go back to the drawing board. We urgently need to replace the dash for tarmac with co-ordinated decisions bringing together road, rail and local transport."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "Ministers consult on just about everything under the sun but when it comes to reforming how we manage and pay for our roads they maintain a stony silence.

"Faced with growing traffic and congestion, lack of road investment and falling fuel duty revenue we need to discuss alternatives, if only to dismiss them.

"This is yet another report which calls on Government to at least start talking about how we tackle these issues. Doing nothing will not make the problems go away."

The AA said it agreed with the committee's view that there needed to be a substantial increase in investment for roads.

AA president Edmund King said: "Motorists currently contribute around £46 billion per annum in taxes yet little more than £8 billion is spent on the roads.

"We are broadly supportive of the reform of the Highways Agency to ensure better value and greater quality for the road user, but AA members have told us in our polling that they have been satisfied with the way English strategic roads have been run, so the new body, created to take over these roads, must be fully accountable to all road users."

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "The UK needs a coherent road and rail infrastructure plan, but this statement is a missed opportunity by this out-of-touch Government.

"This (national networks policy) statement is late, light on detail and makes no mention of carbon emissions, air quality or road safety, which are of huge concern to the travelling public.

"The Government must ensure a long-term plan for our roads and railways which makes them greener, safer and supports jobs and growth."


From Belfast Telegraph