Cash boost for local roads as Government promises £6bn over six years

English Councils are to have around £250M a year more money for capital investment in local roads in the six years from April 2015 to March 2021, Department for Transport has said.

Cloaked in an announcement suggesting that £6bn was being set aside to fill potholes, Government did in fact reveal the local government capital road maintenance budget and unusually laid it out for the six year period to allow road engineers to plan proper maintenance regimes.

For the next three years it has confirmed that the budget will be £976M a year compared to around £720M in 2014-15 and £840M in 2010-11 which was the most generous allocation of this Parliament. And for the three years from 2018 the budget is indicative “to allow for changes in circumstances”, a DfT spokesman said.

“Government wants to encourage councils to get away from patch and mend and able to properly resurface their roads” - DfT

Over £4.7bn will be directly shared between 115 councils along with a £575M challenge fund that can be bid for to help repair and maintain specific infrastructure such as junctions, bridges and street lighting.

There is also £578M set aside for an incentive scheme starting in 2016 to reward councils practising good asset management “who demonstrate they are delivering value for money in carrying out cost effective improvements,” DfT said.

The move comes after growing complaints about local road condition and concern from some experts that smaller back routes may have to be closed to traffic in some areas. The road maintenance backlog is estimated at around £12bn.

The General Election will obviously put what the level of what the DfT announcement said was “locked-in funding” in the balance. But according to the spokesman what should be noted is that the department has recognised that a longer term view of the funds available will allow councils to make better use of the capital budget and plan proper resurfacing work rather than last resort filling of potholes.

“Government wants to encourage councils to get away from patch and mend and able to properly resurface their roads,” he said.

According to director of public services for Mouchel Infrastructure Services Matthew Lugg “taking a more holistic approach to planning roads and services can be game changing and deliver greater efficiencies.

“We think the challenge fund should be split between authorities rather than have them waste resource on bidding" - CIHT

“Councils who think about long term planning and how they work together to share their resources achieve greater economies of scale and keep the road surface in good repair, ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.”

Highways Term Maintenance Association executive director Geoff Allister welcomed the introduction of the incentive element. “Those that can show they truly understand the value of their asset can plan greater efficiencies and deliver cost effective, preventative maintenance, making the available money go further.”

Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation also said the announcement was broadly good news. “There is an increase over what we had and it enables road engineers to plan over a longer period,” said CIHT director of policy and technical affairs Andrew Hugill.  “And it is good news that government has also set aside funding for local authorities who can demonstrate that they are moving to asset management."

The institution was less keen on the challenge funding however. “We think it should be split between authorities rather than have them waste resource on bidding,” he said.

Announcement of the capital allocation for local roads came shortly after news that revenue budgets were to be cut by 1.8% with revenue road maintenance spending expected to be raided again to help maintain investment in schools and social services. This will directly affect the resources available within local government to deliver the capital upgrade.

Less road maintenance will lead to more deterioration in the network requiring more capital investment to put it right with the end result being an overall decline in road condition over time.

“What you’ll see is more revenue schemes pushed into capital as that is where the money is,” said Mott MacDonald highways director David Tarrant. And there will be a mixed picture across the country. Some bigger authorities will protect their highways budgets but others, especially the smaller unitary authorities, will find that very difficult to do.”

CIHT said it was keen to encourage government to consider both revenue and capital funding together and plan for whole life costs. “Without considering the two elements together it is unclear how an effective and efficient service can be delivered,” it said in its submission to the DfT’s funding consultation.

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