Counties hail ‘welcome change in direction’ by DfT in new transport strategy

New plans unveiled by the Department of Transport (DfT) this week have explained how local areas will benefit from increased investment in local roads and transport infrastructure.

The Transport investment strategy announced by the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has set out the government’s long-term approach, explaining how cash will be targeted at specific projects that seek to rebalance the economy.

It also follows the government announcing a separate £6.1bn programme to improve major roads last week.

Included in the strategy is the proposed creation of a new major road network – which would see a share of the annual National Road Fund given to local authorities to improve or replace the most important A roads in their region.

This Road Investment Strategy includes £4.4bn for major maintenance and renewals as well as £9.4bn to be spent on projects to tackle congestion and expand the road network, including upgrading the A1 as far as Newcastle.

Under the new plans, main roads currently overseen by local authorities would share VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) funded National Roads Fund, which was previously meant to be ring-fenced for national routes. This UK VED was £5.8bn for 2016-17.

“Getting transport spending right is crucial for the country’s future,” said Grayling. “The transport investment strategy sets out a blueprint for how we can harness the power of transport investment to drive balanced economic growth, unlock new housing projects, and support the government’s modern industrial strategy.

“This government is taking the big transport decisions for Britain’s future like HS2 and Heathrow, while delivering the biggest investment in roads and rail for a generation,” he added. “At the heart of our approach is a plan to make transport work for the people who use it and for the wider economy.”

And Cllr Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of the County Councils Network and leader of Staffordshire County Council, said that the strategy was a shrewd move from the government.

“This is a welcome change in direction from the government, considering funding is so skewed major strategic roads and motorways, while counties have had to contend with a 40% reduction in their core budgets, making it increasingly harder to maintain the thousands of miles they cover,” he said.

“Currently, London gets over half the country’s total pot of money from the National Infrastructure Pipeline despite covering 5% of England’s roads, while counties receive under one third of this money despite maintaining over two thirds of the nation’s roads.”

Cllr Atkins added that a change in emphasis towards smaller networks and A-roads was long overdue, but it was important that the money was 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,” he concluded.

The investment also comes following a number of warnings about the state of roads in the UK. In March, the NAO warned that decisive action was now needed to keep at risk road projects afloat.

And in the latest ALARM survey a few months ago, it was revealed that one in six local roads would need replacing within five years.

Top Image: David Holt

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