Key figures in the sector have backed the Government’s new Transport Investment Strategy but called for fair funding and rapid action to make the plan work.
The strategy proposes the creation of a major road network, with councils given a share of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and sets a long-term approach for government infrastructure spending where cash is targeted at projects that help rebalance the economy.
Local Government Association transport spokesman Martin Tett said: ‘We’re pleased that the Government recognises that our local roads network has significant economic value. This additional funding could help improve existing local roads for which there is a £12bn repairs backlog.
‘However, this can only help if it is new money, and not a substitute for existing funding. The devil will be in the detail but this is a refreshing approach from the Government.’
Cllr Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of the County Councils Network, said: ‘A change in emphasis towards smaller networks and A roads is long overdue, but it is important that this money is distributed fairly across the country, to ensure all local economies feel the benefit, considering housing and infrastructure are so closely intertwined.
‘County areas account for over half the total vehicle excise duty receipts for England; this must be reflected when the funds are awarded to councils.’
RAC roads policy spokesman Nicholas Lyes called the announcement ‘good news for motorists’. He said: ‘We hope today’s announcement of a major road network will lead to significant investment with a programme of new local road projects tackling some of the country’s worst congestion hot-spots and pinch-points which will benefit business and private motorists alike and act as a stimulus to economic growth.’
However, Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, was more critical. He said: ‘Whilst having a strategy for transport investment is welcome, and some of the Government's principles about funding small scale projects are good, in practice this strategy shows no sign of dealing with the reality of everyday transport.
‘There is nothing in there about cuts to bus services or crumbling local roads, or the long-term underfunding of local transport in general. When asked, drivers say that fixing potholes and improving safety are bigger priorities for roads funding than building expensive new bypasses that simply fill up with more traffic.
‘Combined with the recently announced Housing Investment Fund, it looks increasingly like this Government is all about big roads and runways with little care for the everyday transport most people rely on.
Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) said: ‘CECA believes that substantial underinvestment outside London and the South East is a key cause of everyday challenges on regional transport networks. In the long term, this contributes to reduced business investment, growth and productivity.’
‘We are particularly pleased that the Government has committed to prioritising predictable funding and a stable long-term pipeline of projects, which provides the certainty our members need to deliver schemes on time and on budget.'
Chris Richards, head of business environment policy at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, called the plans ‘a major victory for manufacturers seeing their growth impaired by poor local road connectivity’.
He added: ‘However beyond today's announcement there will need to be rapid action to avoid the drift we've seen with other infrastructure announcements.
'This must include legislation to give permanence to the Roads Fund, the creation of strategic transport bodies to cover all of England to provide coordination on which local roads are of strategic regional importance and clear timescales on when these bodies will have access to the Roads Fund to repair and upgrade local roads - England's most valuable infrastructure asset.’