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Hansard 19 Jan: Column 467 ...
Hansard 19 Jan: Column 467

The government came under attack in the lords yesterday over its plans to tackle the backlog of major road maintenance work and a developing crisis with local roads.

Environment minister Lord Whitty said the government could not accept the estimates of the Local Government Association and the Institution of Civil Engineers that the backlog totalled£5bn.

He told Lord Islwyn there was no agreed estimate, and added: 'For trunk roads in England, we have provided some extra£350m over the next three years. There are also increases for Scottish and Welsh trunk roads. That allows adequate resources to tackle progressively outstanding maintenance on motorways and trunk roads throughout Great Britain.

'Local government in Great Britain has substantial discretion in setting expenditure priorities and full information on local highway condition is not available. But we are now committed to restore the cuts in maintenance of English principal roads under the control of local authorities'.

Labour peer Lord Islwyn insisted that 'reputable non-governmental bodies have calculated on information obtained from local authorities that the backlog is in the region of£5bn and is rising'. A crisis was also developing with regard to local roads.

'That was recognised by the select committee on transport in 1997 when it called for a 10-year plan to remove the backlog', he declared.

But Lord Whitty replied: 'The estimates by the Institution of Civil Engineers and by the LGA by various different means gives us the figure of£5bn to which [Lord Islwyn] referred. The government would have some problem in agreeing to that figure, but we would accept there is a substantial backlog which reflects the decline in maintenance provided by the previous government'.

The government was beginning to reverse that decline both on trunk roads and local authority roads.

He told Lord Brabazon that while local authorities had some discretion in spending money allocated for road maintenace, the government had established it should be a priority within local transport plans under the much tougher local planning it was introducing. In addition, central government would be providing support for capital projects: an increase of over 40% in major road maintenance works and 28% in relation to local authority bridges.

Lord Whitty told the Earl of Onslow, who complained about a newly repaired road being dug up within three weeks, that local authorities and the Highways Agency needed to co-ordinate matters with the utilities better than had happened in the past.

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