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Essex County Council seeks private money to build roads

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ESSEX COUNTY Council is developing an investment vehicle for the planning, funding, construction and operation of all its major transport projects including road building and tunnel projects, NCE can reveal.

The council's executive has approved the 'Essex Infraco' that would lever in hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment using road, port and airport tolls and contributions from housing developers that would benefit from the transport schemes.

The investment vehicle would deliver ambitious transport schemes that have little hope of being publicly funded.

Essex's director for development, highways and transportation Tony Ciaburro told NCE that if the self- funding model was successful, Essex would spend less time bidding for cash from various central government capital funding pots for transport.

'We want a planning system not a bidding lottery, ' said Ciaburro. 'Government funds are very hit and miss, heavily constrained, giving little opportunity for innovation and delivered to criteria that may not be locally relevant. If we had an alternative funding stream we wouldn't totally ignore them but we would be more relaxed about going through the rigmarole of bidding.' Major projects expected to benefit from a toll-based revenue stream include a tolled road tunnel that would connect the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe and reduce heavy traffic congestion caused by lorries travelling between the ports.

A new toll road and bridge crossing to Canvey Island would also become viable.

With 16,000 jobs expected to be created as part of the Shellhaven container port development nearby, the £70M scheme would open up the island to regeneration.

'Schemes like this couldn't possibly be funded through the public purse and the only way to do it would be a tolling type system, ' said Ciaburro.

Consultants and contractors who would design and build the projects would be members of the infraco and would benefit from a guaranteed long term work stream under a model that has been worked up for the council with the help of private sector expertise from consultants including Gifford and Capita Symonds.

Essex is already understood to be in talks with Treasury officials to develop a model that would not be subject to the usual local government procurement rules requiring all projects over a certain value to go out to public tender.

The banks that fund the schemes and the developers that would benefit from them would also be members of the infraco and would help develop the programme.

The infraco would still be publicly accountable to the county council and other public bodies involved such as the Highways Agency.

He added that other local authorities are watching Essex County Council very closely.

'We've had a lot of interest from the private sector and we've had discussions with the DfT which is supportive of exploring that idea, ' said Ciaburro.

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