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New £1.1bn transport fund set for local roads

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Council highways departments hope to secure the lion’s share of an extra £1.1bn for local transport announced in today’s autumn statement.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said the money would be used for “investment in English local transport networks, where small investments can offer big wins”, suggesting it could be made available to local government rather than Highways England. Documents published alongside the statement said the money would be used to ”relieve congestion and deliver much-needed upgrades on local roads and public transport networks”.

Mr Hammond separately allocated £220m for unblocking traffic pinch points on motorways and trunk roads. Both pots of funding form part of the £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund announced today. 

Local Government Association transport spokesman Martin Tett (Con) said: “We are pleased that the government seems to have listened to us on the importance of investing in local roads, particularly those that are heavily congested.

“Whilst more money to solve congestion problems is good news, we need to see the detail behind the headline. We hope the government directs this money towards local roads to help local people.”

But Cllr Tett said that even if this money did find its way to council roads, it was still too little in the context of a £12bn repairs backlog that would take 14 years to fix at current spending rates.

Mathew Lugg, vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation, said: “This additional funding will be welcomed particularly in tackling traffic delays on the worst congested local roads.

“There may be challenges though in delivering improvements even within the five year timetable as a result of due processes local authorities have to go through [such as] planning approvals and environmental impact assessments.

“Local authorities are already struggling to deliver existing capital programmes due to a skills shortage and their inability to attract and retain the required expertise.”

Councils have long argued that the £1.1m spending per mile on maintaining Highways England’s trunk and motorway network vastly exceeds the £27,000 per mile they can afford, even though council roads comprise some 97% of the total network.

Geoff Allister, executive director of the Highways Term Maintenance Association, which represents roads repairs contractors, said: “While acknowledging the additional investment, HTMA calls for a longer term view of maintenance funding for the local road network. This would provide investment and workload certainty; giving confidence on which the sector can successfully invest and build capacity.”

In other transport announcements, Mr Hammond accepted the National Infrastructure Commission’s call for construction of an Oxford to Cambridge ‘expressway’ road and pledged £27m towards the project.

There would also be £110m towards the proposed east-west rail line, which would reinstate a long-vanished train link between the two university cities.

Mr Hammond said the commission should plan which projects it would recommend to ministers on the basis that spending on infrastructure would be equivalent to 1% and 1.2% of GDP each year from 2020-50, up from 0.8% at present.

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