It was always going to be a Budget that focused on the economy and welfare issues so soon after the General Election. But by introducing emissions-based vehicle exercise duty on new cars that will go towards the funding of roads, the Chancellor is sending all the right messages to the highways and transport sector.
It is a step in the right direction towards a proper ring-fenced funding system for roads in what the chancellor says will go some way towards ‘to pay for the sustained investment our roads so badly need.’ It also created a credible alternative to road user charging in the future. However the Budget document only makes mention of the money being put to the strategic road network.
The obvious question here is what now for the local network? Or to put it another way - the other 98%of the UK’s roads.
For long, there has been heated debate centred around the imbalance of funding for the local network compared to the strategic one. Last year the Government announced it would be providing local authorities with £6bn worth of funding over the next six years for maintenance of local highways, £4.7bn for a needs-based formula, with £580m to incentivise good asset management and efficiencies and £575m reserved for a challenge fund for large on-off maintenance and renewal projects.
In contrast, Highways England will receive over £15bn over five years via a new long-term sustained funding to deliver the Government’s new Roads Investment Strategy, which will include 100 schemes over the next five years.
The Government says the creation of Highways England will produce savings of £2.6bn over the next 10 years. But while some are suggesting £15bn is more than enough for Highways England for a network that is already in a decent state, others are questioning whether £6bn is enough for local roads which are in a completely different state.
Perhaps a more important point is that there will be many in the sector that will question whether we need more new roads. Maintaining what we have should be a priority as is further investment in the quality of public transport delivery.
That is why it is good to see £30m being given to Transport for the North to help develop an integrated oyster-style ticketing system in the region to help link towns and cities in the region.
Perhaps through strengthened local bodies, including combined authorities and regional transport authorities, local government can build a platform to win more of the funding it needs to not just maintain the roads but also to manage how much traffic is going on them.