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Roads to Nowhere

New figures show councils are gambling taxpayers’ money on roads to nowhere

15 September 2011
New figures show a number of councils are risking huge sums of public money on costly and unnecessary road schemes at a time of unprecedented cuts to local budgets.

Campaign for Better Transport has collected data from all the 45 major transport schemes currently being considered for funding by the Government after full and final bids were submitted on Friday (9 September). The schemes are competing for a share of £630m of government funding.

The figures collected by Campaign for Better Transport show some councils have doubled or trebled their financial contribution in order to reduce the amount of Government funding they are asking for and make their schemes more likely to get approval from Government ministers.

The figures show that councils have pledged £609m in total, up from around £400m in the budgets they last set out in January, with some councils borrowing huge sums of money on the basis of unreliable forecasts for new sources of income. Councils will also be shouldering all the risks of delivery and any increase in costs as the approved schemes progress.

Examples of schemes which carry unnecessary risks for council tax payers and have strong local opposition on environmental grounds:

 

  • Devon County Council and Torbay Council are proposing to borrow £31.3m to fund the Kingskerswell bypass, trebling their original expenditure and bringing the total cost of the road to £19,582 per metre. This comes only months after Devon cut £54m from its overall budget and axed 1,700 staff. The bypass would cut the village of Kingskerswell in two, permanently destroying the countryside and the character of the village. It would also harm the habitats of rare bats and endangered birds.
  • Norfolk County Council has pledged £26m for the Norwich Northern Distributor Road despite slashing £60m from its overall budget in April and cutting 750 council jobs. The road once opened would generate 25,000 extra tonnes of carbon emissions per year.
  • East Sussex County Council has committed £29m to the Bexhill to Hastings link road, £9.8m more than originally envisaged, whilst cutting £37m from its overall budget. The road would run through Combe Haven Valley, an exceptionally beautiful area of countryside, and within metres of the Combe Haven Site of Special Scientific Interest.
  • The Lincoln East Bypass is now set to cost £12,787 per metre with a £45.9m contribution from Lincolnshire County Council – three and a half times more than originally envisaged.
  • If built, the South Bristol Link Road will cost Bristol City and North Somerset councils £15.5m, more than double their original expenditure. The road would destroy agricultural land on the edge of Bristol, cut across rural brooks and a long distance footpath, and open up the greenbelt to development.

Sian Berry, Campaign for Better Transport’s sustainable transport campaigner, said: “Many of these schemes have been on the drawing board for so long, decades in some cases, and better and cheaper alternatives have since become available. But instead of seriously considering other options, councils are gambling more and more council tax payers money by ramping up their borrowing based on flimsy assumptions about future contributions from developers. With the uncertain state of the economy, it’s as if these councils are proposing to take out a second mortgage with no idea if they can afford the extra repayments.”

 

A five-week public comments period opened on Friday (9 September) ahead of the final funding decision in December. Campaign for Better Transport is urging the Government to only fund schemes that are sustainable and provide good value for money and is working with local groups who have proposed cheaper, more sustainable alternatives to expensive road schemes.

Notes to Editors

1. The 45 schemes include 20 new roads, 15 public transport projects, five maintenance projects and five mixed transport schemes. A full list of data for all the schemes is available here.

2. Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).