The Department for Transport (DfT) has backed calls for long-term funding for local roads and suggested this could include a cross-government proposal to Treasury to pool funding with the communities department.
The move comes in response to a report on local road funding and governance by the Transport Select Committee, which recommended a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.
In response to the report, the DfT said: 'The Department for Transport is currently working on developing a good evidence base to ensure it submits a strong business case to HM Treasury as part of a future Spending Review. As part of this we are also working closely with [communities department] MHCLG regarding Revenue Support Grant as the Committee advises. There is consensus about the need to invest in infrastructure, including local highways maintenance with a long-term perspective.'
Maintenance in local highway authorities is funded through a combination of capital and revenue funding. Capital funds come in part via the local highways maintenance block funding from DfT while revenue comes from MHCLG.
Therefore co-operation with MHCLG could be key to creating an effective long-term funding pot for local highways maintenance.
The issue of creating pooled capital and revenue funding - known as Totex funding - has been debated for some time.
In its response to MPs, the DfT also said it would consult with local authorities regarding any future funding settlement for local highways maintenance funding as the Committee has recommended - including on the issue of Totex funding.
Transport Committee chair Lilian Greenwood MP, said: 'A simple visit to the shops or the regular journey to work can result in injury or damage to someone’s vehicle from the plague of potholes on our local roads. This is an issue that affects everyone - pedestrians, cyclists and drivers - every day.
'We therefore welcome the commitment from the Department to work across government on giving local councils the cash and long-term funding certainty they need to tackle the effects on roads of years of neglect.
'The new DfT ministerial team’s willingness to engage with the work and recommendations of the committee is refreshing. We’ll continue to press to ensure the Government commits to proper funding to make sure roads are safe for all.'
The Government also accepted the case for pooled innovation funding from the various finance streams and competitions in operation.
'We have approached Innovate UK and BEIS to establish how they can support the assimilation of research of local roads maintenance and how Government can best disseminate results of research in the future,' the DfT said.
On the issue of governance, the DfT was less forthcoming. It highlighted the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) report - previously known as the Lugg report after its past president - which had assessed local highway responsibilities and governance. Initial results were reported byTransport Network here and suggest some variance of views when it comes to governance reform.
Transport Network understands that a final version of the report could be due imminently.
'The Government believes this may help address the concerns of the Committee and following the conclusion of the report, we will consider how to respond to the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation report and whether there is a need for a further independent review as recommended by the Committee,' the DfT said.
DfT responses on other key issues:
'The Digital Innovation Brokerage Hub is being managed by Atkins (part of SNC Lavalin). The Government will request a report from Atkins within 12 months of the Hub going live to assess the benefits and outcomes. This report will be published on the Department for Transport website.
'The Hub was launched at the end of March 2019 and is a new and innovative approach to accelerate research and development by encouraging SME involvement in the highways sector.
'The main objective of the Hub is to encourage technological and product innovation from SMEs to help define and address the most complex challenges in any sector, and has been proven in the Water industry. The Digital Intelligent Brokerage does this by lowering the barriers to entry for SMEs, from a wide range of industries, using sophisticated problem re-definition and an innovative online gateway. Enhanced outcomes are then achieved for each complex challenge by accessing diverse solutions, often resulting in unexpected but beneficial results.'
Autonomous vehicle timescale
'The timescales for the adoption of connected and automated vehicles are uncertain, given the diverse range of enablers that need to be in place before the technology can be deployed at scale. Setting out a detailed timeline as the Committee has suggested at this stage is premature given how likely it is that this would be quickly overtaken by events.'
Data collection and surveys
'We will be undertaking a review into the technology and data required to develop the best insight at both a national and local level of condition of our highways. As part of this review, the Government will consider whether we should be collecting condition information on wider road infrastructure, including bridges, structures, and lighting.'
Public reporting of defects/potholes
'Taking on board the recommendation by the Committee [to develop a platform that the public can use to make online reports about road condition direct to the relevant council and access real-time local road condition data] the Department for Transport will now work with the UK Roads Liaison Group, UK Roads Board, and the Local Councils Road Innovation Group to investigate further how such a platform can be developed.'
Risk-based approach to maintenance
'Working with the UK Roads Liaison Group, the Department for Transport will report by the end of 2021 on what effect the risk based approach has had on local highway authorities and whether it has improved their efficiency and effectiveness.
'The Department for Transport through UK Roads Liaison Group has monitored the progress of this. We are also aware of the recent analysis undertaken by the RAC Foundation published in December 2018 in which they had highlighted that 142 (75%) of the 190 (out of 207) local highway authorities in Great Britain whom supplied information to the Foundation now predominantly follow a risk based approach. They also highlighted that a further 15 (8%) indicated that their current approach was under review or that they were planning to soon switch to a risk based approach in the near future.'
As the Committee and those who provided evidence recognises, there is an acknowledged local highways maintenance backlog and following analysis by the Department for Transport in 2015 this is estimated to be ranging between £4.6 to £8.5bn but with industry observers suggest that it could be as high as £9.0 to £12.0bn. The Department is currently undertaking work with the sector to update this analysis ahead of the next Spending Review as part of a State of the Nation report.