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Roads investment top priority, says public

Investment in roads and highways has become more of a priority for the general public according to the ICE’s latest public service satisfaction survey. 

The survey, which monitors change in attitudes to key public services in the UK, shows that 55% of respondents now think that roads and highways should be the first or second priority for investment, compared to 49% in the first quarter of this year and only 37% this time last year.

The ICE survey, conducted quarterly by ComRes, investigates public attitudes towards key public works and services and asks them to indicate their overall levels of satisfaction as well as their top investment priorities. ComRes conducted a telephone survey of 1,003 members of the public between the 25 June and 27 June.

Roads and highways was voted as one of the top two priorities by 55% of respondents. Public transport got 39% of the vote, disposal of rubbish and waste 33%, drinking water and sewage 26%, electricity and gas supply to homes 21% and flood defences 21%.

The survey results follow a string of announcements from the new coalition Government detailing significant budget cuts for local transport projects and warnings that there are still more cuts to come.

Earlier this week transport secretary Phillip Hammond warned that the Department for Transport was assessing the impact of a 40% cut to its £7bn capital budget. 

The ICE said further funding cuts to local roads would be extremely detrimental. Last month its State of the Nation report found local transport networks to be in poor condition, grading it as a ‘D’ or ‘at risk’ sector. It said that as well as needing improved connectivity to national networks and a shift from reliance on private car travel to reduce emissions, there is an increasing need to properly address the growing backlog of maintenance work with long-term preventative solutions not quick fixes.  It has been estimated that to clear the existing backlog only would on average take 11.5 years and cost local authorities over £40M each.

ICE president Paul Jowitt said local roads are already under-funded and further cuts would have dire consequences.

“Our local roads are already under-funded, with a budget shortfall of £1.2bn across local authorities and maintenance works backed up to the extent it will take more than a decade to address,” he said.

“Without increased, or at very least maintained, levels of investment we won’t be able to improve this situation. This will have dire consequences for local communities and the UK as a whole, driving up costs in the long-term as roads continue to deteriorate, and impacting on the local economy as congestion and delays become more frequent.

“In the worst case scenario further funding cuts will seriously detract from the value of the asset, reduce road safety and increase congestion and delays, which will ultimately have a detrimental effect on our economy.”

The ICE survey also showed that the public’s view of the importance of investment in our decrepit energy sector is seasonally affected, with it dropping down the list significantly in the summer months. Only 9% of people ranked electricity and gas supply as their number one priority for investment in the katest survey, conducted in June. This compares to 16% in March’s survey, conducted in February, and 18% in last December’s survey.

ICE president Paul Jowitt warned that this attitude must not affect the much-needed focus on the energy sector. “The UK’s energy sector is in desperate need of attention and while we can understand that the public forget in the warmer months the problems we had with supply over the winter, we are anxious that this attitude does not influence government or industry to lose focus on the urgency of this issue.

“Winter is just around the corner and before you know it we are going to be battling the same old problems in both these crucial infrastructure networks – lack of salt for gritting roads, potholes and severe delays as public transport struggles with freezing weather and roads are closed, and energy demand hitting a critical level, jeorpardising security of supply. We must start preparing for these now,” he said.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I read with interest the findings of the ICE’s latest public service satisfaction survey, which shows that 55% of respondents think that roads and highways should be the first or second priority for public spending by the new coalition government. It would be great to see this reflected in the forthcoming Spending Review!

    As you rightly say in your article, under investment in roads in the short & medium terms will detract from the core aim that we as an industry have been working towards in recent years which is decreasing congestion and delays and improving road safety. Furthermore, cuts of the level being suggested could well result in a repeat of what we all experienced in the mid 1990s alongside spending cuts – the loss of the skills base. Many skilled professionals left the roads industry for jobs in rail and project management such that when spending on roads once again increased, the roads and highways industry was severely lacking in skilled professionals. As we’ve been through this cycle before, we need to consider what we can do as members of a professional body (the ICE) to highlight this issue to the government and stop the same mistakes being made again.

    Making best use of the existing roads and highways network is the way forward, and we can do this in two ways to benefit road users:
    · making best use of all the tools available to us to maximise the capacity of existing infrastructure (such as the Highways Agency’s Managed Motorways programme)
    · optimising maintenance expenditure through asset management programmes, not only to ensure that money is not wasted but also to ensure that money is made available at the right time to enable maintenance work to take place

    We must ensure that the Spending Review enables this to happen.

    Mike Llywelyn-Jones
    Strategic Business Director

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  • John Mather

    Well said Mike. But it's not just a case of needing to look after what we have, there is a valid case for improvements to be made also. It would be helpful if our decision makers would read and respond positively to the findings of the Transport Select Committee and the RAC Foundation.

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