Highways experts were left disappointed after Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn statement focused on new infrastructure with little mention of maintenance.
The industry welcomed Osborne’s pledge to spend an extra £5bn on new infrastructure schemes during the next three years.
The chancellor also wants to see £30bn of new longer-term cash invested mainly via a £20bn injection of private money from pension funds.
But contractors are worried about the timing of the schemes and the lack of any extra cash for road repairs.
Institute of Highway Engineers president Steve Spender said: “In many parts of the country the local road network is just as important an asset as the Strategic Road Network.
“Local networks are essential to keeping the economic engine of the country working allowing businesses to operate and aiding important economic growth at both a local and strategic level.
“Improvements to local roads offer excellent rates of return, network resilience and must not be overlooked in the drive to lever in private financing.
“The plight of the country’s local road networks has increased over a number of years due to major under investment and more recently the ravages of three bad winters.
“Although welcomed, the additional pothole monies provided last year by Government have, in reality, done little to improve overall conditions.
“We are running to stay still. In times of severe economic constraint as we find ourselves today, most users of the highway network would agree that a sensible approach is to fix the holes in the roof before planning an extension or new conservatory.
“Unprecedented cuts in local government expenditure together with severe retrenchment of the industry has meant dramatic changes to staffing levels across the board.
“Years of valuable and largely irreplaceable experience has been lost and urgent action is required now to stem this loss.
“We simply cannot afford to jeopardise future growth prospects through lack of skilled resources in key areas of our economy.”
Paul Fleetham, Managing Director, Tarmac National Contracting said: “I welcome the Chancellor’s plans to place road construction at the heart of new infrastructure spending and the Government’s innovative approach to use UK pension funds to invest in projects.
“However, the Government’s focus on ‘big ticket’ new road schemes does not address the significant funding deficit for maintaining our existing local road asset and the long-term planning required to tackle future capacity issues.
“Any new highways schemes will be seriously undermined unless they are underpinned by well-maintained local roads.
“We risk ending up with a two-tier road system; one with high quality ‘Premiership’ toll roads that are comparable in standard to our European neighbours and another deteriorating road network that seriously jeopardises our future economic competitiveness and threatens to put the UK at the bottom of the league table for transport infrastructure.
“With the continuing rise of Just in Time delivery systems, there is now a greater reliance from business on reliable transport networks than ever before and a well maintained local road network is essential for this.
“Bringing forward managed motorways schemes is a short-term solution to rising car usage and will fail to tackle long-term capacity issues.
“These schemes will also fail to kick-start the UK construction industry because much of the technology is developed by foreign companies whereas traditional construction techniques will favour home-grown business. It is accepted and reinforced by the OECD that spend on infrastructure has a net incremental benefit to UK GDP.
“We appreciate that funding for road maintenance is in short supply but we need Government to also look at new alternative funding models for the local road network.
“Tax increment financing for local authorities has not been fully pursued and I would also urge Government to investigate whether it is feasible to provide councils with their highways budgets over a five-year period. This approach can help them efficiently plan their expenditure to support and deliver their asset management plans.
A May Gurney spokesman added: “While this money will help build new projects, having a strategic vision for maintaining existing infrastructure is equally vital.
“The thing that concerns many motorists and businesses is damaged and potholed roads and responsibility for much of this maintenance work falls on local authorities which are struggling with funding cuts of 28% that came in as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
“While the new investment announced by the Government will create jobs and help drive economic growth, allowing local authorities to seek similar private sector investment to improve and maintain existing infrastructure would be equally valuable in helping keep UK businesses and residents moving.”