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Posts Tagged ‘road infrastructure’

So the Chancellor has promised the largest road investment programme in half a century.

But talk is cheap. The big question is how such a commitment can be delivered, especially if there could be a change of government within a couple of years?

If we were talking about the railways then there would be no reason to worry. After all, every five years the rail network receives a fixed settlement for the next review period. A Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) set against a list (High Level Output Specification or HLOS) of what should be achieved with the cash.

So come tomorrow will Danny Alexander – in his infrastructure announcement – finally announce a similar system for the road network, particular the strategic roads managed by the Highways Agency? After all that is what was recommended by the Cook Review.

More generally, we welcome today’s announcement and the long-term commitment to funding, but capital expenditure on our strategic roads is not yet back to the levels seen before the cuts started in 2011 and the cut in resource spending risks exacerbating the pothole plague.

Also, you can’t kick-start an economy with back-loaded measures. Road schemes tend to deliver excellent value for money, but the benefits for the nation will only come if they receive the green light sooner rather than later. Much will depend how any extra money will be allocated over the coming years.

Eighteen months ago we identified 96 major road schemes worth £11 billion which the DfT did not have the cash to progress. Our latest audit shows 33 have since been given the go-ahead. However, most are small projects and an £8 billion funding gap remains. We have plotted the original 96 schemes on a map with details of the 33 that have progressed.

If the Chancellor is looking for money he need only look at motoring taxation. Unlike bus and rail passenger who are heavily subsidised, drivers contribute a net amount to the Chancellor each year – £33 billion in fuel duty and VED alone.

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On the eve of the comprehensive spending review the latest RAC Foundation audit of English road building shows that progress has been made by government in improving capacity.

In November 2011, a report for the Foundation found the Department for Transport had 96 major road schemes – at both Highway Agency and local authority level – sitting on its shelves gathering dust.

The projects had been costed but were unfunded. Combined, the value of these schemes was at least £10.7 billion. Many schemes had been assessed as delivering very high value for money.

This latest audit shows that, some eighteen months on, 32 of the original 96 schemes have now been approved. (See addendum for precise schemes.)

Nine of these 32 are Highways Agency schemes for the Strategic Road Network, with work due to start before the end of 2014/15. Development work is underway on a further 6 ‘pipeline’ schemes from the list. The Government has also given the go-ahead to 23 of the 35 local authority major schemes included in the list.

Other schemes, both Highways Agency and Local Authority, not included in the original list, are also being progressed.  The total cost of these 32 schemes is in the range £2.1-2.6 billion with a consequent reduction in the size of funding gap.

But worryingly the DfT no longer makes publicly available benefit/cost ratios for projects before they have been rubber-stamped making it impossible to judge how value for money decisions are being made and how one proposed scheme compares with another.

This audit was carried out by John Smith, one of the authors (together with the consultancy Arup) of the original report.

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