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NAO: Decisive action needed to keep at-risk road investment projects afloat

Key projects in the government’s road investment strategy are at risk of cancellation if “decisive action” is not taken by the summer to develop a realistic approach to delivering road maintenance targets, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed.

The report, which looked into progress being made on the Road Investment Strategy, found that due to the government rushing out the five-year plan before the general election in May 2015, projects were selected without proper knowledge of whether they would be good value for money, leading to 54 of the 112 projects being delivered in 2019-20 – something that will cause major disruption for motorists.

The NAO added that forecasts for how far projects were running overbudget had gone up to £841m from the originally forecast £652m, due to the original plan not taking into account factors with capital costs on things such as post-project evaluations and IT investment.

These issues now mean that 16 projects present “a risk to value for money” – and are in danger of being delayed or cancelled altogether. The NAO has recommended that the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England should agree an updated delivery plan for the remainder of the plan.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The Ddepartment and Highways England need to agree a more realistic and affordable plan if they are to provide optimal value from the Road Investment Strategy.

“Highways England has been working to address the risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money that were present in 2015, but we are now nearly two years into the five-year road investment period.

“Decisive action needs to be taken before the updated delivery plan is published in the summer if shortcomings in the current strategy are not to be carried over into future road investment periods.”

Councils call for local road investment

Commenting on the findings, Cllr Martin Tett, LGA transport spokesman, said the report highlighted the disparity in spending between government-owned highways and money available to councils to maintain their roads.

“It is wrong and unfair that the government allocates almost 40 times more money per mile to maintaining national roads, which it controls, compared with local roads, which are overseen by councils,” he said. “It is paramount this funding discrepancy is swiftly plugged.”

This sentiment had been echoed earlier this month, when a report by the RAC Foundation underlined the “chronic need” for greater investment in local road infrastructure.

“Councils across the country have schemes ready that would provide good value for money and could be delivered quickly,” explained Cllr Tett. “Previous funding rounds have been oversubscribed. If the government wants to make investments that would boost capacity, tackle congestion and air pollution, and deliver growth, they only need to ask local councils.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “This government is taking the big decisions for Britain’s future, and we are investing a record £15 billion on road schemes which will cut congestion, speed up journeys, and boost the economy across the country.

“As this report acknowledges, we have made significant progress in managing our major roads more efficiently, and we are confident Highways England will deliver safe and reliable roads that deliver value for money for the taxpayer.

“We will consider the findings of this report.”

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