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Contractors challenge Darling over local roads underspend

CIVIL ENGINEERS this week urged new transport secretary Alistair Darling to reverse a worrying decline in local roads investment.

Local authorities and central government have underspent on their roads budgets, despite the fact that huge sums have been allocated to roads in the 10 year transport plan. Local authorities have £31bn for road maintenance over 10 years.

Darling moved to the post of transport secretary after succeeding embattled Stephen Byers, who resigned last month (News last week) and following a decision to split the Department of Transport Local Government & the Regions into two.

Local government and regional affairs now become the responsibility of deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Darling takes up his role as new research from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) shows that most contractors are getting less work in local roads.

Two years after the plan's launch, the condition of local roads is still getting worse, say recent surveys by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

But in CECA's survey of more than 100 contractors, 37% said that their local roads workload was down on one year ago, 45% said it was unchanged and 18% said it was higher.

More contractors have reported lower local roads workload in the last few months, said CECA chief economist Jim Turner. He said the situation was particularly bad in the North West and North East.

'There is a lot of change in the marketplace,' said Turner. 'We are putting out the message to the industry that it is increasingly important to get out and lobby the government.' Turner feared that the money was not reaching the industry because councils are raiding their £1.95bn revenue funding budgets for routine maintenance to fund other services.

CECA figures show that local road budgets are 13% underspent. They are backed by new research from the motorists organisation the AA which found a 6% average underspend on local road spending.

Darling was also urged to speed up delivery of new road projects amid fears that not enough trunk road schemes have been added to the Highways Agency's Targeted Programme of Improvements.

The Department of Transport is already said to be £500M underspent on last year's budget.


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