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Roads to Nowhere

The truth about those road spending figures

Sian Berry's picture
Road in the rain - photo by Highways Agency on flickr

Ministers have been giving differing figures, so how much exactly is planned for roads in the next Parliament? We’ve crunched the numbers and the terrifying total is more than £30 billion.

There was some confusion last week as the Prime Minister ‘announced’ £15 billion of spending on new road projects, with some commentators wondering if this wasn’t in fact a cut, compared with the '£24 or £26 billion' mentioned to the Transport Committee by ministers in February and the £28 billion originally announced for roads in the 2013 Spending Round.

To help everyone make sense of whichever new number is declared by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement on 3 December, and to show why those of us in favour of the environment and sustainable transport are so worried about the scale of the new dash for roads, here’s our breakdown of the planned spending, and the ways in which it could get even higher.

In total, our reckoning is that over £30 billion is proposed for investment in road infrastructure in England in the financial years 2015/16 to 2020/21, via the Highways Agency, the 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities, European funds, and the London Mayor.

We have excluded Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from our calculations, but these governments are also planning many new road and motorway schemes in this period.

Highways Agency - £15 billion

Protest at proposals for A27 expansionThe overall budget for the Highways Agency’s motorway and trunk road network were first announced in 'Investing in Britain's Future', published alongside the 2013 Spending Round. A range of road reforms are all expected to be signed off by the end of this Parliament, including the full transfer of the Highways Agency to be a government-owned company and the first five-year Road Investment Strategy (RIS).

The RIS's budget lines and initial projects will form the basis of the Autumn Statement announcements, and the first detailed RIS will be published just before that. It will contain the main schemes emerging from the Department for Transport’s ‘feasibility studies’ on six corridors, and a selection of large schemes from the Highways Agency’s ‘route strategies' covering its whole network – the full details of the latter plans are not expected to be finalised until April.

Details of the overall Highways Agency budget in Investing in Britain's Future Table 1A (page 12):

Year HA budget (millions)
2015/16 £1497
2016/17 £1907
2017/18 £2316
2018/19 £2614
2019/20 £3047
2020/21 £3764
Total £15145

Along with 12 other environment and transport groups, Campaign for Better Transport has proposed £3 billion of the total funding in the RIS should go on a ‘green retrofit’ of existing roads to make them more efficient and have a lower impact on communities and the environment.

Local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)  ~£13 billion

LEP logosSeveral local authority grant funding streams have recently been merged into a single Local Growth Fund (LGF) to be controlled by Local Enterprise Partnerships through a process of agreeing local ‘Growth Deals’ with the government. These funding streams include grants previously awarded by the DfT to Local Authority Major Schemes and the capital part of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (see page 60 of ‘Investing in Britain’s Future)

The LGF is administrated and allocated competitively by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (though most of the funding is coming out of DfT budgets) through bids for ‘Growth Deals’ from the 39 LEPs and the first £2 billion has already been allocated, with a further £6 billion in indicative funding for other projects on top of that.

Overall more than £12 billion will be spent through the LGF from 2015/16 to 2020/21 and, in addition, LEPs will be allocated £5.3 billion of European Structural and Investment Funds, much of which will go on transport projects.

Not all these projects are road schemes and, in a small number of very enlightened areas, packages combining sustainable and public transport are being proposed. But in cash terms these are small beer compared with big new roads, and a study by us and CPRE last year showed that road-based projects are likely to suck up around 65% of the LGF funding.

Local authority and business match-funding applies to many projects so, along with the European funds, around £13 billion therefore seems a reasonable estimate of what will go on roads themselves via the LEPs.

London ~£2.5 billion

Darren Johnson AM has criticised London road-building plansLondon’s Mayor has published an Infrastructure Plan covering transport investments for the capital up to 2050. This has plenty of public transport in it, but is also surprisingly heavy on plans for new roads (for an increasingly car-free population), including an ‘inner orbital tunnel’ – a subterranean 22-mile motorway - that was first proposed in the 1960s and was a reboot of a surface version that was proposed as long ago as 1944!

First up though, is a series of new river crossings for vehicles in the east of the city, and a set of widening plans around Brent Cross and Croydon, and these are the projects that are likely to be completed before the end of our five-year period of interes - totalling £1,640 million. With link roads and junction changes needed for the new tunnels, and some pilot ‘flyunder’ and ‘decking over’ road projects likely to be added to this tally too, our estimate is up to £2.5 billion going on vehicle-focused infrastructure schemes by 2021.

London Assembly Member Darren Johnson has recently compiled a report looking at all the potential new road-building in the London Infrastructure Plan and has estimated the cost of London road-building plans up to 2050 to be more than £28 billion.

A consultation on the Silvertown Tunnel is also underway – find out more here.

Private finance for roads - unknown

For some time the Government has also been attempting to attract private finance into road building – notably with the A14 bypass/widening project in Cambridgeshire, which was revived originally to be a pilot privately funded toll road. Toll plans were abandoned at the end of 2013 and public money committed instead.

The National Infrastructure Plan Finance Update in late 2013 gives details of plans for how to fund the various schemes it lists, and says public/private funding will be used in a number of sectors but only for 'a small minority of road and local transport schemes'. The report also lists schemes that will be PFI-funded, principally river crossings.