Chancellor George Osborne confirmed an extra £200 million pot to help councils repair potholes in his 2014 budget with local authorities invited to bid for funding.
Osborne (pictured) also confirmed that the government will introduce legislation to give new tax and borrowing powers to the Welsh Government to fund their infrastructure needs.
This legislation will be announced tomorrow (20 March) and will mean that the Welsh Government can start on work to improve the M4 in South Wales.
He also announced a £270m guarantee for the Mersey Gateway bridge. The Mersey Gateway Project is a major scheme to build a new six lane toll bridge over the Mersey between the towns of Runcorn and Widnes.
Nick Baveystock, Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director general, said: “The additional £140m funding for flood defences repairs and £200m for road damage is welcome and signals a commitment to better protecting homes and businesses from flooding and building resilience into our transport networks. We are disappointed however that government missed the opportunity to provide the longer term certainty needed to improve our flood resilience by committing to an investment programme for flood risk management which protects funding beyond the current five year cycle. It is vital that government now works closely with Local Lead Flood Authorities to target flood spending where it is needed most – and we urge Government to develop its long term plans swiftly.”
Peter Shone, managing director of national highways maintenance contractor JPCS, said: “Our winters are getting harsher and this has had a significant impact on our roads and footpaths. Research has shown there are at least 1.5 million potholes in the UK, almost one in 10 people have suffered car damage as a result of poor road surfaces in the past 12 months, and local authorities have paid out £2.5m in compensation to motorists in the past financial year.
“Pressure on local authorities maintenance budgets has made needed repair works a challenge. The funding released today is a positive step in supporting local councils to tackle the pothole epidemic. Local authorities now need to work in partnership with highways experts to ensure they implement the most cost effective pothole repair treatments which will not only patch the current road damage, but also provide a preventative solution for the future.”
Richard Hayes, president of the Institute of Highway Engineers, said: “I have been through the full statement and see that the proposal is to set up a £200 million pothole challenge fund across the UK. I presume that this will mean more bidding to government and as I said recently authorities are a little weary of this process. We welcome any new funding but across the whole of the UK this money will not go far. Osborne gives a number of potholes that can be filled, but now much long term maintenance will be provided? We await details of how the money will be made available.”
A spokesperson for the Mersey Gateway project said: “Today’s announcement from the Chancellor that the government has confirmed a £270million guarantee to support the project is great news. The government is now guaranteeing around 50% of the senior debt required to finance the project with the remainder being provided by the project finance market. This decision clears the way for financial close, (when contracts will be awarded and all finance committed) and we expect to achieve this in the very near future. Once we have completed this, more details of the financial arrangements and funding will be confirmed and announced. Preparations are taking place to allow construction work to commence in the coming weeks.”
Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) chief executive Howard Robinson said: “George Osborne states that he wishes to enhance the economic recovery and improve the resilience of UK infrastructure, yet his piecemeal ‘every little helps’ approach fails to address the fundamental problem of years of under-investment and ongoing cutting of local authority highway budgets. His approach is that of using a sticking plaster rather than curing the problem. Any additional funding will be welcomed by hard-pressed local authorities despite the indignity of their having to enter a bidding war against each other for the funds.
“It is obvious that long-term planned preventative maintenance offers a far better approach than knee-jerk patch-and-mend. Unfortunately local authorities are fighting a losing battle trying to first repair the backlog of potholes before they can even think about the long-term maintenance and performance of their road networks.”
Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation chief executive Sue Percy said: “Today’s budget reaffirmed the commitment to infrastructure that has been previously made. Whilst we welcome this commitment, we will be analysing in more detail what this actually means for our industry. The chancellor focused on economic resilience, but without a resilient transport system the forecasts for growth announced today could be compromised.
“CIHT welcomes the budget’s recognition that infrastructure investment is a driver of economic growth. Transport infrastructure is vital to the whole spectrum of society. The additional investment will create jobs and support economic recovery. The chancellor should continue to seek opportunities for more infrastructure investment to generate even greater benefits. Private finance want to see commitment and certainty over the long term before they will look to invest in UK infrastructure. We want to see not only a longer term commitment to funding but we believe that we need a national strategy for transport to help shape the strategic future of our economy and society.”
Paul Fleetham, managing director, Lafarge Tarmac Contracting, said: “It is encouraging that the government has recognised the poor conditions of our roads network and set up a £200 million emergency fund to deliver pothole repairs. Nonetheless, local authorities and their contractors are waiting for previously announced government funding to trickle down. There is an opportunity for government to follow through with increased funding and longer-term funding mechanisms, allowing councils to move from one-year costly cycles of highly reactive work to planned, preventative maintenance programmes and proper asset management.”
Matt Hicks, programme director at Tarmac Building Products, said: “Given the state of the UK’s road network the £200m set aside in the Chancellor’s budget for pothole repairs is not fit for purpose. There is a clear backlog of pothole work to be done following on from the 2013 big freeze – the main cause of potholes – which hasn’t yet been properly dealt with. When combined with this winter’s severe rainfall, the reality is that £2oom isn’t going to go very far.
“The cost of repairing potholes is quite disproportionate to just filling in a hole in the road. A pothole needs to be cut out, cleaned and then repaired to ensure it won’t reappear, which is a labour-intensive and costly process. In a wider context, the costs incurred as a result of potholes to individuals and businesses – from vehicle damage to serious personal injury – are potentially a major drain on the economy. Whilst the £200m is a start, in order to bring about genuine change, a detailed national road repair strategy is required. Dealing with this major national problem in such a piecemeal way will not resolve the issue of the state of our nations’ roads.”