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Prime minister to set out new ownership and financing vision for roads network

Prime minister David Cameron is today expected to launch a feasibility study looking at a new ownership and financing model for the national roads system aimed at drawing in large-scale private investment.

In a speech on infrastructure heavily focused on roads, Cameron is expected to call on the Department for Transport and the Treasury to find ways of privatising the roads network in a similar way to the water industry.

“We now need to be more ambitious. Why is it that other infrastructure – for example water - is funded by private sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated, utilities……but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?

“We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network – from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and other investors. That’s why I have asked the Department for Transport and the Treasury to carry out a feasibility study of new ownership and financing models for the national roads system and to report progress to me in the Autumn,” he will say.

Cameron is expected to echo earlier government announcements at tolling could be an option for new roads, but he will accept that the opportunities for this will be limited.

“We need to look at innovative approaches to the funding of our national roads - to increase investment to reduce congestion. Road tolling is one option – but we are only considering this for new, not existing, capacity,” he will say, citing the ongoing study on the A14 as an example.

Cameron’s speech will, however, be at odds the findings of last year’s Cook review into the Highways Agency, which found that no fundamental change was required to the way roads were managed in the UK apart from a move to a five-year funding cycle. The Agency has been waitiing on the Department for Transport to sanction the recommendations in the report since the Autumn.

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