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Industry reacts positively to government’s transport investment plans

Improvement work on the A! near Catterick.

The infrastructure sector has reacted positively to the new Transport Investment Strategy announced by transport secretary Chris Grayling. Local roads will benefit from a share in a multi-billion pound improvement fund as part of the new strategy, which sets out a new long-term approach for government infrastructure spending.

Alan Pauling, UK transport market director at Ramboll, welcomed the use of vehicle excise duty to fund highway improvements. “Irrespective of whether and how much goes to either the Strategic Road Network or the local authority, controlled roads will undoubtedly be the subject of much debate,” he said. “More interesting to watch will be the competition that develops as responsible authorities seek to compete for that funding, which raises the prospect of a return to a cumbersome bidding process. This will also give those paying road tax a first time opportunity to have a say in how that money is spent and, importantly, to pass comment on whether it was worth it,” said Pauling.

Stephen Russell WSP head of highways said: “This funding will help to re-balance the perceived discrepancy between local and central government infrastructure investment and will be welcome to local authorities who are balancing revenue and capital funding pressures whilst seeking to maintain and enhance their key local roads. By ring-fencing funds to support the upgrade of local roads the strategy builds on the work done within the Rees Jeffries report issued last year that highlighted the importance of the emerging Major Road Network.”

Russell said that it was crucial that a joined up approach was taken in order to achieve best value from the funds announced by Chris Grayling. “A key enabler to making the most of this funding will be ensuring that local road enhancements interlink with the wider Strategic Road Network plans and therefore the work of sub-national transport bodies, combined authorities and LEPs will be key to supporting the potential that is now being made available,” said Russell.

Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), said: “ACE welcomes this announcement as it demonstrates a considerable opportunity for future investment in our road network. We have long campaigned for vehicle excise duty to be used to fund significant investment in our road network as it will re-establish trust between motorists, civic society and the government while improving UK connectivity.

“The disconnect between the strategic road network and local roads, particularly around junctions, has led to bottlenecks in the system that are not good for the productivity of the UK economy. Creating a structure that enables reallocation of funding that allows for investment in the entire road network will reduced bottlenecks and traffic jams allowing traffic to flow. The UK's towns and cities are the engine of our economy but it is only by improving the connectivity between the various regions of the UK that we can ensure the economic growth the UK needs in a post-Brexit world.”

Iain Bisset, divisional director of infrastructure and built environment at WYG, said: “This is a positive move that strengthens the connection between revenue generated from vehicle excise duty and highways investment needs. Including local authority ‘A’ roads in a Major Road Network is a logical step forward.”

David Tarrant, highways general manager at Mott MacDonald, said: “The secretary of state’s commitment to a ring-fenced road fund is very much welcomed. The main aim of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund study was to recognise the importance of a coherently planned and managed Major Road Network, which is greater than the current Highways England (HE) network. The emphasis was never on just building lots of bypasses. The key factor was recognising that many parts of the current network, which isn't under HE’s control, play a key role in the economic and social life of an area."

Jason Millett, Mace’s chief operating officer for consultancy, said: “Every year, traffic and congestion costs the UK £31bn a year and anything we can do to reduce that figure will help to get the country match fit for Brexit and better placed to compete on the global stage. It will now be important to ensure that we leverage this investment as effectively as possible to boost outcomes for the people that live and work around the proposed schemes. This means genuine community engagement and a real commitment from contractors to developing and using local skills.”

David Brown, the chief executive of Transport for the North, which represents 19 local authorities and 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships in the north, also welcomed the plans. “The fact that the government says its national Transport Investment Strategy ‘sets out a new long-term approach for government infrastructure spending – meaning cash will be targeted at projects that help rebalance the economy’ has to be good news for the north,” said Brown. “We now need to study the report in much more detail before we give our full response. Initially, the signs are encouraging and it appears many of the recommendations we have been making will now become part of the national agenda,” he said.

Civil engineering contractors also reacted positively. Marie-Claude Hemming, drector of external affairs at 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.”

The freight sector said the new investment plan was good news for the sector but more investment was needed to upgrade the road network. Christopher Snelling, head of national and regional policy at the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said:  “Major local authority roads form a crucial part of the road network so our members welcome the news that the new fund can be allocated to support a wider range of projects. However, this extension of use will undoubtedly mean greater calls on one pot of money, so the government will need to support infrastructure investment beyond just that provided by vehicle excise duty.”