Roads schemes worth £1.5bn, including a major upgrade of the A1 previously canned for being too expensive, were the big winners in chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last week.
Osborne confirmed that £5.5bn more cash will be made available for infrastructure projects in his Autumn Statement, with £1.5bn for roads and specifically £333M set aside for “urgent maintenance”.
Osborne said money would be saved from other departments, with most departmental resource budgets to fall by 1% next year.
The biggest project getting the go-ahead was the £314M upgrade of the A1 between Leeming and Barton to dual three lanes, creating a continuous motorway standard route from London to Newcastle.
“This announcement has the potential to bring more than 3,000 people out of unemployment and into the industry’
Alastair Reisner, CECA
The scheme was one of nine road upgrades scrapped in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (NCE 28 October 2010).
At the time Osborne said the upgrades were not considered realistically likely to receive funding in the current review period, or the next one, and therefore were to be cancelled and removed from the Agency’s programme.
However, following a review, the A1 scheme has been added back in to the Agency’s programme, alongside a further £64M scheme to upgrade the A1 through Gates-head. A public inquiry into the Leeming to Barton scheme has already been completed, so it can start quickly, in 2013/14. The Gateshead upgrade will start in 2014/15.
The North East Chamber of Commerce hailed the schemes as a major boost to business in the region.
“This is the first budget announcement from the coalition government that business in the North East can really get behind,” said North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy Ross Smith. “The £378M upgrade of the A1 to motorway from London to Newcastle is a huge success for those of us who have lobbied long and hard for infrastructure investment and will help our firms deliver more for UK Plc.”
Osborne also committed £127M towards construction of the A5-M1 link near Luton. This scheme was one of 18 pushed back to future spending review periods in the 2010 review. It too has passed through a public inquiry and is slated to start on site in 2014/15, subject to developer funding of £45M and £5M of funding from Central Bedfordshire Council being agreed.
Other schemes accelerated included the dualling of the A30 in Cornwall and work to upgrade the junction of the A13 with the M25, but these schemes will not begin until 2015.
Osborne also re-announced plans to accelerate delivery of the M1, M3 and M6 Managed Motorway schemes and the A160/180 upgrade (NCE 29 November).
An additional £400M for road maintenance and renewal, £333M of which is earmarked for “essential maintenance” was welcomed by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA).
It has been championing extra cash for small scale road schemes since the summer (NCE 23 August); a call that was also backed by business lobby group the CBI, the Federation of Small Business and the Campaign for Better Transport.
“CECA has been lobbying for additional funding for highways maintenance, based on the fact that activity can be increased almost immediately providing jobs and growth for communities across the UK,” said CECA external affairs director Alastair Reisner. “We estimate that this announcement has the potential to bring more than 3,000 people out of unemployment and into the industry. This is very welcome news that recognises the vital contribution our sector will play in rebuilding growth in the economy.”
To support capital investment in Northern Ireland, the government has also agreed to allow the Northern Ireland Executive to defer up to £50M of borrowing to allow it to upgrade the A5. Osborne also committed £50M to install braodband infrastructure to create the UK’s so-called “superconnected cities”.
There was no cash for the M4 bypass in south Wales, however. The government said it was “engaging” with the Welsh Government to explore funding options for this scheme.
There was also no new cash for rail. “We’ve already set out plans this autumn for a huge investment in rail,” said Osborne.
Osborne also confirmed that detailed spending plans for 2015/16 onwards will be set at a spending review to be announced during first half of 2013.