Exclusive: Highways professionals want major changes on local roads

 

Even those who know the sector inside out may be surprised by the results of the latest FiTZ INDEX survey carried out by Highways magazine in partnership with Fitzpatrick Advisory, as we reveal what professionals from a wide range of highways disciplines feel about the key issues.

A major survey of highways professionals, some at the very top of the industry, has revealed almost unanimous support for a five-year investment strategy for the local road network, which would put it on the same footing as Highways England and Network Rail.

More than 360 people responded to our survey and around 97% agreed that local roads – which themselves cover around 98% of the network – should be granted a five-year funding plan. In fact, 69% strongly agreed with the idea and 28% agreed. This is despite only 33.2% of respondents actually hailing from regional, city or local government clients.

The new president of council directors’ body ADEPT told Highways that a five-year local roads plan would be one of the association’s key campaigns under his leadership.

”Local
Simon Neilson, president of council directors’ body ADEPT

Simon Neilson, executive director of economy and environment at Walsall Council, said such a plan would mean ‘making the best of limited resources, spending it wisely alongside other street furniture and built environment improvements and synchronising works with statutory undertaking’.

‘If we had the means to develop our road network at the same quality as Highways England is able to – brilliant. It feels like we’re the poor relations and unfortunately we are the ones – and our politicians in particular – who get shot in the neck when the state of our roads is as it is.’

On the issue of the performance related funding brought in by the Department for Transport (DfT) under the Incentive Fund, a total of 71% agreed that performance-related pay for highways authorities raises standards with 22% strongly agreeing.

The UK has more than 200 local highways authorities – 153 in England, 32 in Scotland and 22 in Wales - while Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure, Highways England and Transport Scotland play national roles.

More than 65% of respondents disagreed with the statement that this provides value for money. Respondents made it clear that they feel the number is too high and a sizeable majority feel it could be reduced by at least half.

Steve Gooding, former DfT director and current director of the RAC Foundation, said: ‘We agree the sheer number of local highways authorities is too high, in part because there might be scope to cut costs and pool resources, but also because strategic decisions need to be taken across a geographically-large area. Travel demand is no respecter of local authority boundaries – hence the age-old transport professional focus on the “travel-to-work” area.’

The survey also reveals a deep ambivalence towards road charging. The split between those who feel we should continue with funding from government and those who feel there needs to be a more direct relationship between road users and payment was roughly 47%/53%.

A large majority think the public are either against it because they feel they would end up paying more and don’t want to (41.6%) or because they don’t trust politicians to spend the cash in the right way (36.9%). Around 67% disagreed with the idea that the Government could implement road user charging without damaging public and business confidence in such a system.

Mr Gooding said: ‘Ultimately the drivers for change are likely to be the greening of the vehicle fleet and the consequent fall in fuel duty revenue, rather than the traditional bugbear of congestion. But if we were to see a more direct “pass-through” of money to highways authorities, by pay-as-you-go or other systems, we think that would have to come with clearer accountability to road users about the quality of service they get in return.’

A former senior figure in London transport, and a leading member of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group, John Elliott, said it showed the sector had ‘a lot of work to do if we are to advance transport policy’.

Qualitative research in the survey also showed a deep frustration with the procurement process. The majority of respondents said it did not help foster innovation.

Click here for the survey results

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