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WARWICKSHIRE SPEAKS OUT ON REGIONAL TPP SETTLEMENT

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Speaking at the West Midlands regional annual consultative committee, attended by roads minister John Watts, Warwic...
Speaking at the West Midlands regional annual consultative committee, attended by roads minister John Watts, Warwickshire CC director of planning, transport & economic strategy, John Deegan said:

'Chairman, minister, ladies and gentlemen, since you are here in Shakespeare's county, it seems wholly appropriate that I try to encapsulate this year's TPP settlement in a quote from the bard himself.

'As Cleon, Governor of Tarsus, had it in Pericles:

'Shall we sit here And by relating tales of other griefs See if 'twill teach us to forget our own'

'And it really is mostly a tale of grief within the region as a whole. The headlines of the 1997/98 TPP settlement are as follows:-

'The overall regional settlement, at almost exactly£100 million, is nearly£33 million ~ 25 per cent ~ down on last year.

'Within that total, there are no new major highway schemes accepted - which reflects the national picture. This means no new bypasses, relief roads or similar for at least a further year.

'For the first time that I can recall in over twenty years of personal involvement in the TPP system, there is no provision for new minor schemes other than in the LSS' allocation and in package areas.

'Again, this reflects a national decision and I note that it saves only 39 million in total. It is perhaps worth spelling out what this decision means, because my members certainly haven't all grasped the implications yet.

'It means for example:

-- no provision for pedestrian crossings, footways, facilities to help cyclists, 'bus lanes, traffic signals, lay-bys, traffic calming, etc., except where there is a serious accident problem, or in a 'package' area.

-- no provision to make happen those minor road schemes, often these days funded in partnership with developers, to assist economic development or remove lorries from sensitive areas.

-- Although the 'package' scheme expenditure will remain broadly at the level funded last year ~ indeed there is a slight increase in the region, against the national trend ~ it has left us, I think, with mixed feelings.

'The continued support for the Shrewsbury package has been welcomed; the North Staffs package funding is the same as last year; and a new package in Stafford itself has been approved.

'Moreover, the West Midlands Metropolitan Area package funding has increased ~ the only package so blessed in the country.

'However, the GO-WM has admitted that in previous years the Metropolitan package would probably have secured acceptance for the 'bus-based bid as a major scheme - but not this year.

'As a result, other funds are likely to be top-sliced to fund the Bus Showcase proposal. Elsewhere, the approved Worcester package has no allocation, and here in Warwickshire we have sufficient for half a roundabout in Leamington.

'On the positive side, allocations for bridge and highway maintenance are both up, as is the allocation for LSS ~ although the maintenance increases follow substantial reductions in the two previous years.

I think three other points are worthy of comment:

'There are some relatively minor, but nevertheless difficult, aspects of the settlement. I am thinking in particular of the assumption that highway authorities can fund minor residual commitments (e.g. land) for completed schemes from 'other' sources.

'The only option actually is from revenue - which in capped authorities means that much less for other services.

'The opportunities for alternative funding, e.g. via Capital Challenge or the PFI, appear to be far from straightforward. Here in Warwickshire our first priority for Capital Challenge was a library/arts complex in Rugby - ahead of a number of road schemes.

'Since there was some hesitation by arts organisations in supporting our library bid, the road schemes were not even considered for Capital Challenge funding. I am bound to say to the Minister that it seems a bit rum to me that our highway plans should effectively be vetoed by the West Midlands Arts Council!

On the PFI, whilst we clearly should look at DBFO solutions, I believe that there is a widespread view that this is simply 'an expensive way to borrow money', as a former secretary of state said.

'However, I confess my own ignorance of the facts and suggest that it would help all local highway authorities if the Minister could provide us with some evidence that the approved DBFO schemes for trunk roads and motorways are likely to prove to be a more cost-effective solution than conventional funding.

'Finally, by way of prognosis, things are going to get worse. Currently national projections suggest a further reduction in TPP resources of 25% over the next two years - i.e. more than the fall over the last two years.

'The only saving grace is that, as past commitments tail off, there may be some slack for new projects in two years time. And even that, I'm afraid, doesn't help us next year.

'May I conclude my overview of this year's settlement by returning to the words of the Bard; Falstaff, in Henry IV; expressed a view that I suggest may touch a chord with many members of transport committees here today:

'I am as poor as Job, my Lord, but not as patient'.

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