It's not been a good week for Chris Grayling. The transport secretary has more egg on his face after hailing transport ‘investment’ in the South West 'more than £2bn', despite the majority of the spending – the £1.6bn Stonehenge Tunnel – currently being unfunded.
It comes after Mr Grayling was lambasted at Prime Minister’s Questions over his handling of the Seaborne Freight fiasco. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn cited a Freedom of Information disclosure to Transport Network showing that the Department for Transport (DfT) had shortcut its usual procurement processes.
To coincide with the transport secretary’s visit to the region to announce an £80m package for sea wall defences at Dawlish, just five years after the rail line was washed away, his department published a glossy brochure – whose purpose is, to say the least, slightly questionable – highlighting Government spending in the region.
On his visit to the region, for which the Dawlish announcement appears to have been delayed, Mr Grayling also confirmed £22.5m funding for a link road near Plymouth.
The brochure cites both funding pledges, but its biggest ticket item by far is the plan to build a tunnel at Stonehenge, at a cost of £1.6bn.
However, as Transport Network has reported, the DfT is waiting for the Treasury to clarify how the scheme will be paid for after confirming that it will not be financed through any form of private finance.
In a letter to the transport select committee the DfT’s permanent secretary, Bernadette Kelly, wrote: 'The business cases will be considered in 2019 as planned and the Department is working with HM Treasury to determine the funding route for these schemes as part of this process, but my Department's expectation is that public funding will need to be agreed as part of the spending review.'
The chancellor announced a total moratorium on existing forms of private finance in the Autumn Budget, alongside nearly £29bn for roads over five years through the National Roads Fund, the bulk (£25.3bn) of which will pay for the 2020-25 Highways England Road Investment Strategy (RIS2).
Although Ms Kelly’s letter suggested that funding for the Stonehenge Tunnel – and the link roads for the Lower Thames Crossing – would be in addition to the cash for RIS2, the DfT brochure implies that it will come from there.
It states: ‘As part of our £29bn improvement package on England's most important roads, the government is investing in new high quality dual carriageway connections in the South West, connecting Camborne to the M5 at Exeter, and the M5 at Taunton to the M3 at Basingstoke.
This is part of a longer-term aim to extend dualling to Penzance and includes a £1.6bn investment in a 1.8-mile tunnel to bypass Stonehenge.’
To be fair to the DfT, it isn't entirely clear what part the cost of Stonehenge plays in the £2bn headline figure, given that it has made no attempt to add up the seemingly random list of projects, which include large chunks of national spending with no attempt to estimate the region's share.
In fact, the document itself doesn't mention the 'more than £2bn' figure at all. That seems to be a figment of his - and his press officers' - imagination.
Transport Network has approached the DfT for comment.