Key figures from the transport sector have disagreed about the chancellor’s pledge to spend more money on roads while freezing fuel duty.
In his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, Philip Hammond announced an additional £1.1bn by 2020/21 to relieve congestion and deliver upgrades on local roads and public transport networks and an extra £220m to tackle key pinch-points on strategic roads.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said the Autumn Statement was ‘broadly positive for drivers and road users’ against a backdrop of deteriorating public finances.
He said: ‘The continued duty freeze indicates the chancellor recognises transport is the biggest single area of household expenditure and two thirds of workers commute by car.
‘The £1.3bn earmarked for roads has been confirmed as new money. Most of the cash will go on improving the more than 200,000 miles of local roads that fall outside the strategic road network and that the majority of drivers use on a daily basis; however the local road maintenance backlog remains a formidable one with the cost to clear it entirely estimated by ministers themselves to be £8.6bn.’
He added: ‘Tucked away in the statement’s small print is a recommitment to the National Road Fund which will ring fence Vehicle Excise duty for spending on strategic roads from 2020.’
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘While the Government has rightly committed to focusing on smaller local projects which can deliver better value, it is still wasting too much on big road building schemes.
‘Schemes such as the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and duelling the A66 across the Pennines will only increase traffic - what's needed instead is more support for alternatives to driving including rail and bus infrastructure.
‘It's a missed opportunity to set us on path to low carbon future with a focus on better, greener growth with better and cheaper alternatives to car travel.’
Mr Joseph welcomed plans for East-West Rail but said the chancellor had ‘yet again missed the opportunity to step in’ to tackle accelerating losses to supported bus services in rural areas.
He said it was disappointing that the chancellor had not said anything about the forthcoming Cycling and Walking Strategy or provided ‘any actual investment’ in it.
Mr Joseph added: ‘We are disappointed the chancellor has chosen to freeze fuel duty yet again. This will do nothing to address air pollution from transport or reduce congestion.
‘If the UK is to reduce air pollution to within legal limits as soon as possible, then we need a much more robust Air Quality Strategy, a commitment to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads and more incentives to support public transport, walking and cycling.’