The government is to set up a Major Road Network as part of the Department for Transport (DfT)’s new Transport Investment Strategy.
The DfT says the Major Road Network will ensure local authorities receive a ring-fenced share of the National Road Fund specifically to be spent on improving A roads. The Fund is paid for by vehicle excise duty.
“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,” said transport secretary Chris Grayling.
“At the heart of our approach is a plan to make transport work for the people who use it and for the wider economy.”
The National Road Fund was previously set to be reserved for national routes, with Highways England due to receive the money from 2020. It is expected to generate around £5bn per year.
The DfT said giving a share to local authorities would rebalance the economy by improving connectivity between towns and cities. The money would be spent on projects such as constructing bypasses.
Last October a report called A Major Road Network for England argued that A roads were at risk of losing out financially, as they are controlled by cash-strapped local authorities. The report from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund called for A roads and the Highways England-controlled Strategic Road Network to be joined together, creating a 12,874km Major Road Network.
Authors of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund study A Major Road Network for England, David Quarmby and Phil Carey, said they welcomed the announcement.
“We are delighted to see the government has now adopted our concept of the Major Road Network for their transport investment strategy,” they said.
“Adopting and promoting the MRN in this way will help the government’s road investment plans reach and benefit communities right across England.”
Ramboll’s UK transport market director Alan Pauling welcomed the news, but warned it could herald the return of a “cumbersome” bidding process.
He said: “Chris Grayling’s announcement to hypothecate VED to fund highway improvements is a welcome and long overdue step forward. 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.
“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 the VED, 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.”
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association director of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said: “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.
“Proposals for a ‘Major Roads Network’ should also be welcomed, as they will enable local authorities to target investment where it is needed, to the benefit of road users and the taxpayer.
“Investment in transport will be central to securing the economy and driving post-Brexit growth.”
However, the Campaign for Better Transport said the DfT’s proposal ignored the everday concerns of motorists.
“Whilst having a strategy for transport investment is welcome, and some of the government’s principles about funding small scale projects are good, in practice this strategy shows no sign of dealing with the reality of everyday transport,” said Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph.
“There is nothing in there about cuts to bus services or crumbling local roads, or the long-term underfunding of local transport in general.”
The Transport Investment Strategy forms part of the Modern Industrial Strategy.
Four themes for the Transport Investment Strategy
- Making sure transport investment benefits the whole of the UK economy.
- Relying more on private finance to get good value for money, and getting the maximum use out of existing assets.
- Creating stability around funding to support long-term planning.
- Ensuring the UK leads the way in new transport technology.