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Debate Roads budget

A recent AA report highlights the fact that the amount spent per kilometre of road in urban areas is higher than that spent in rural areas.

This week we ask: Should a region's roads budget be set according to its population size?

Yes

The Automobile Association, representing a large number of motorists, has recently suggested that investment on highway repairs is apportioned on a population basis.

Britain's elected representatives are voted on a population basis and, taking the principle of highway funding to the limit of the democratic extreme, it could be spread in proportion to the number of representatives.

The income from taxation is from the public at large and it therefore seems sensible to distribute funding on a similar spread of population basis.

The greatest need for repair and maintenance of the highway network is around centres of major population.

The most costly elements of the highway network to repair are generally to be found around large concentrations of people.

This is also where additional items of infrastructure such as bridges, subways, footways, lighting, signs and other street furniture are most numerous.

In many cases, repairs need to be completed outside normal working hours which adds to the costs of maintaining urban roads.

The continuing invasion by statutory undertakers - particularly by the ever-increasing number of telecommunication companies - is greatest in the most heavily populated parts of the country.

Despite the obligations on these statutory undertakers to reinstate the highway, it has been found that the excavation activity of these undertakers has hastened the need for highway repairs.

Of course, vast numbers of vehicles making strategic journeys pass through rural and sparsely populated areas. These roads essentially link large areas of population and they too need to be adequately funded.

However, the cost per mile of maintenance is less than in urban areas.

No

The principal road network should be seen as a national asset that needs to be maintained to a consistent standard.

Historically, funding has been allocated on a per capita basis or based on mileage of different categories of roads. There is a strong case for funding to be directed to areas of greatest need and for the need to be assessed in the same way by all local authorities.

The need should be determined on the condition of the highway infrastructure and traffic volumes with a consistent basis for determining its condition. In addition, recognition must be given to authorities in remote communities.

Pavement management systems and other asset management tools provide the means for consistency and the environment within which we can manage our highway assets and best articulate the need for funds with politicians and government. However, building and maintaining these asset management systems also require adequate funding.

While the rationale for needs based funding is sound, there would be unacceptable consequences if it was immediately implemented. Authorities which have committed funds and maintained their highway infrastructure in reasonable condition in times of under-funding from the Government will lose out to those who have had other priorities and diverted funds from road maintenance.

There is therefore an understandable nervousness on the part of these authorities of any move to a wholly needs based system and there is a clear case for transitional arrangements.

This approach must be supported by mechanisms to avoid funds being diverted to other services. Through their local transport plans authorities have to commit to the achievement of certain performance standards and their ability to secure future funding will be linked to the achievement of these targets. This linkage provides a powerful incentive and provides the profession with the challenge of delivering its promised performance.

The facts

The recent AA report 'What you get and where you live' highlights 'considerable differences between regions in expenditure on each kilometre of both national and local roads'.

Eastern England and the South West spend about half as much as the North East and South East per kilometre of road.

Average weekly spending on motoring is highest in the South East, at £80 a head.

People in Wales spend the least, with an average outlay of £61 a head.

Eastern England has fewer miles of motorway per square kilometre than any other region in Britain.

More communities in eastern England are waiting for bypasses than elsewhere in the country.

Eighty three per cent of households in rural communities have access to a car. In London the number is 60%.

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