Substantial increase in road investment needed, warn MPs
In its newly launched report on the strategic road network (SRN) in England, the Transport Committee pointed to Department for Transport predictions that traffic levels on the SRN will rise by 46% by 2040. Simultaneously, income from fuel duty is likely to decline as use of fuel-efficient low-emission vehicles increases.
The Transport Committee report said that if the traffic forecasts are correct, the Government will need to increase investment in the road network substantially during the next decade. This requires new long-term funding streams. A consensus would be required to introduce any road user charging scheme across the SRN and the many issues involved would have to be resolved.
The report also said showed scepticism for plans to spin off the Highways Agency as a Government-owned company (GoCo), saying that the benefits seem achievable through better management of the current agency and its relationship with the DfT. It also warned that if the Highways Agency becomes a GoCo, it will need a strong system of scrutiny.
Commenting on the findings, Transport Committee chair Louise Ellman said: ‘The Committee strongly supports the five-year funding plans being introduced for the Agency, but is not convinced that it is necessary to change the Highways Agency’s status. The Government has decided to make this change so we call for a far stronger system of regulatory oversight than is currently proposed.
‘The SRN is a crucial part of our national transport system but has suffered from inconsistent funding and policy over the past twenty years. If the traffic forecasts are correct, then Government will need to increase investment in the road network substantially over the next decade – a period when we also know that tax revenues from fuel duty are bound to decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient. Against that backdrop the Committee recognises the need for a consensus around how to raise the money required to modernise the UK’s road network.’
The Transport Committee also launched a report examining the proposed planning policy framework for nationally significant road and rail infrastructure projects and called for joined-up planning for both passenger and freight traffic across the UK’s road and rail infrastructure, saying that this is crucial for future prosperity.
Ms Ellman added: ‘The DfT must plan for new road and rail investment by looking at future passenger and freight demand by route or region, not by looking at road or rail in isolation from each other, as is done at the moment.
‘There must also be a more transparent system for road planning as part of a wider national transport strategy. As part of this, the DfT’s National Transport Model (NTM) should be subjected to proper scrutiny. The Department has already conceded that it does not work well for forecasting London traffic and needs to be reviewed.
‘If our recommendations are overlooked the UK won’t develop the kind of transport infrastructure that it needs over the longer term.’