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Roads to Nowhere

Another council plans to risk tens of millions on a pointless bypass

Sian Berry's picture

12 August: Lincolnshire County Council is breaking its summer recess on Monday to vote on whether to gamble £48 million on its plans for the Lincoln Eastern Bypass.

The council hopes that new developments close to the road can be used to claw back £34m of the money over time, using developer contributions and New Homes Bonus payments.

However, opposition councillors are concerned that the risk may not pay off; leaving the council with huge debts that will affect other services, as reported in the Lincolnshire Echo today.

We’ve noticed that across the ‘Development Pool’ of schemes competing for £560m in DfT money this December, several of the local authorities promoting big road schemes are doing the same – relying on future ‘third-party contributions’ to pay back tens of millions in council borrowing, purely in order to reduce the amount of government funding they ask for.

Lincolnshire’s massive £48m gamble is the biggest yet, but some of the other big spenders are:

  • Norfolk County Council, which plans to guarantee £31.6m for the Norwich Northern Distributor Route
  • East Sussex County Council, which is putting £35.1m into the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road
  • Torbay Council and Devon County Council, who have agreed £33.3m between them for the Kingskerswell Bypass

Is this borrowing wise when other council services are being cut, and when the economic downturn means there is no guarantee new housing will be built in these areas?

And what if the projects end up costing more than predicted? There’s a long history of overspending on big road schemes. In the past, the Government has shared the risk with councils and helped to cover extra costs but, this time, the DfT are very clear that this won’t happen.

As part of their Best and Final Bid submissions for the funding, officers have to sign a statement guaranteeing their councils will be liable for:

“any ongoing revenue requirements on the understanding that no further increase in DfT funding will be considered beyond the maximum contribution requested at 4.3 (c) (including if third party contributions should no longer be available).”

When there are cheaper, more sustainable transport alternatives proposed for every one of these schemes, councillors should think hard before voting through these risky road debts.