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Ministers to review transport network resilience

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is to lead a targeted review of the resilience of Britain’s transport network to extreme weather events in the wake of recent flooding.

Network Rail has already confirmed that it intends to beef up the resilience of its network in response to the recent storm damage to its infrastructure.

It has told NCE that it will commit to investing around £300M in measures to improve resilience to climate change in the next five year funding period starting in April. This is despite being told it must spend £1.8bn less than it had planned over the five years.

A Network Rail spokesman said that if more work was needed, cash would be found by working more efficiently on other programmes.

However, the spokesman said that cash would not be taken from the £31M announced by prime minister David Cameron to fund 10 specific weather resilience projects on the railway last week (see box).

The £31M for railways was part of £61M of funding announced by Cameron for flood-related projects in the road and rail sectors.

He also announced £30M for maintenance of local authority roads damaged by the severe weather.

McLoughlin’s review was one of the first decisions of the new Cabinet committee on flooding, also set up by Cameron last week. Its remit is to coordinate strategic long-term plans for flood recovery and flood resilience.

It will look at the plans of all transport providers and will build on the work of the 2010 Quarmby Review of cold weather resilience.

The review announced by McLoughlin will report by the summer.

The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT) said it was “encouraged” by the announcement.

“The whole of our infrastructure network is important to different users in different ways and must be effectively maintained to an appropriate standard, providing a safe and efficient level of service,” said CIHT chief executive Sue Percy.

“Current long term predictions indicate that these extreme weather variations will continue, and situations such as the current flood events, and disruption caused, underline how adequate maintenance and funding of the network must be a fundamental part of UK transport policy.”

The flooding committee has also ordered a review of the Bellwin scheme, which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities during exceptional circumstances. The review will consider whether the arrangements to compensate local authorities for the costs of emergency measures they have to implement are fit for purpose.

Cameron, who chairs the Cabinet flooding committee, has already said that local authorities will this year be reimbursed for 100% of their emergency costs rather than the usual 85%, with advance payments of up to 80% of costs immediately available.

The committee has also ordered a review of investment decision guidelines on flood defences. Current government rules demand that flood defence schemes are at least 15% funded by residents or businesses.

The rules are holding up a raft of flood defence schemes, including a proposal that would have protected many homes currently flooded in the Lower Thames valley.

 “We’re determined to boost the resilience of the transport network against future severe weather,” said McLoughlin. “The funding the prime minister has announced, along with the other measures we are putting in place, will help make this happen.”

The cash for transport projects came a week after Cameron announced that an additional £130M would be spent on urgent flood defence repairs over the next two years.

This, said Cameron, was in addition to a “record £2.4bn” being spent on flood defences by this government.

Rail resilience

The 10 rail resilience projects will see Network Rail undertaking work at the following locations:

  • Cowley Bridge Junction
  • Chipping Sodbury
  • Hinksey
  • Whiteball Tunnel South
  • Athley – Cogload
  • Hele Bradninch
  • Flax Bourton
  • Patchway up Tunnel
  • earthworks strengthening at Honiton and Crewkerne

Network Rail will also install rainfall, river flow and groundwater monitoring around Cowley Bridge Junction and Chipping Sodbury.

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