Private cash needed to boost roads network, says David Cameron

 

David Cameron: "This is not about mass tolling"

David Cameron has called for an "urgent" increase in private investment to improve England's road network.

He said tolls for new roads were one option, alongside attracting more money from pension funds and other investors.

Work was also needed to relieve gridlock by widening "pinch points" and allowing traffic to use motorway hard shoulders, the prime minister said.

But Labour said it would be "wrong" to "load extra costs on ordinary families" to pay for improvements to roads.

In a speech on infrastructure, the prime minister said there was an urgent need to repair its "decades-long degradation" and to "build for the future with as much confidence and ambition as the Victorians once did".

'Sweating old assets'

He argued it was clear there was not enough capacity on the roads in busy areas.

"There's nothing green about a traffic jam - and gridlock holds the economy back," he said.

Part of the solution was to move more people and goods onto the rail network, Mr Cameron said, "but also to widen pinch points, add lanes to motorways by using the hard shoulder to increase capacity and dual overcrowded A-roads".

But the prime minister said "innovative approaches" were needed to finance road improvements at a time of tight government finances.

The public don't much like anything that smacks of privatising that which they already think they own - although the experience of the water industry shows that once it's happened people shrug their shoulders and get on with their lives

"Road tolling is one option - but we are only considering this for new, not existing, capacity. For example, we're looking at how improvements to the A14 could be part-funded through tolling.

"But we now need to be more ambitious. Why is it that other infrastructure - for example water - is funded by private sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated, utilities... but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?

"We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network, from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and other investors."

Mr Cameron also said: "To put it crudely, we've become good in Britain at sweating old assets. But if you do that for too long, there's a price to pay."

He promised to move "from a tactical, piecemeal 'make-do-and-mend' mindset to a strategic, comprehensive, systematic vision".

'Dead-end policy'

Mr Cameron claimed that congestion on roads costs the UK economy £7bn a year.

A feasibility study looking at "new ownership and financing models" for roads will be carried out by the Treasury and Department of Transport, to report by the autumn.

Labour leader Ed Miliband: "People are struggling to make ends meet"

Alasdair Reisner, from the Civil Engineering Contractors' Association, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that one option was a system of "shadow tolls", whereby the motorist does not pay the cost but private firms are paid by the government depending on the amount of traffic using a road.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "We will look at the detail of any scheme but I give the prime minister this warning: people are really hard-pressed; people are struggling to make ends meet.

"I think loading extra costs on ordinary families for using our roads would be the wrong thing to do at this time. It would be wrong for them; it would be wrong for the economy.

"If they want to get the economy moving they should be investing in our infrastructure in order to actually help us build up to the future and get economic growth going."

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI employers' group, said: "Congestion on our roads costs the UK economy up to £8bn a year, so the prime minister's ambition to get much-needed private investment into the strategic network could not have come at a better time."

Edmund King, president of the AA, agreed that investment was needed in roads, but added: "We need to be careful about how we go about this."

Prof Stephen Glaister, RAC Foundation: "The money has got to come from somewhere"

On the prime minister's comparison between the water industry and the road network, he said: "Many consumers - drivers - will raise their eyebrows at that. In the water industry we saw big companies make big profits initially, at the same time as water and sewage costs went up by 42% and 36%."

Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "We should cautiously welcome the prospect of private sector involvement. There are just not enough public resources to provide the capacity we need and this offers the chance to make long-term plans for a utility every bit as important as things like water, power, electricity and the railways."

But Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "Building and widening roads to tackle congestion is a dead-end policy that will simply lead to more traffic, more pollution - and even more gridlocked roads.

"The prime minister should be promoting alternatives to driving such as affordable buses and trains - and reduce our transport system's reliance on expensive overseas oil."

 

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  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 1088.

    If the aim is to price people off the roads, it's worked at least for me. The scrappie will pay me £100 for the car, I'll get 6 months of tax back, and I'll save £215 a year thereafter. Instead I'll use the bus; I'm usually the only one on it apart from the driver. Cost to the taxpayer? About £ 215 a year per person carried. Now that's gov't maths that's really going to get the deficit down!

  • rate this
    +158

    Comment number 512.

    everything that has ever been privatised in this country ends up costing the tax payer AND the user more at a reduced service. where are these so called "new" roads going to be built? I think there wont be any new roads just revamed old ones which then leads to the question, will all the lorrys that use these roads further push up the cost of living as the costs are then passed on the public?

  • rate this
    +302

    Comment number 8.

    Why can't this funding come from the road fund license and the vast amount of fuel duty that is paid on petrol and diesel?

    If the government spent 1/4 or the roads from the tax revenue there wouldnt be a traffic problem,

  • rate this
    -169

    Comment number 5.

    I dont have a problem with road tolls; anyone who drives on the Continent can see it works. Having to pay to travel this way makes people think about staying local/regional and would encourage other travel options e.g. rail. Both are environmentally more susttainable. The money should be spent improving the network. I dont see why the government hasn't brought it in sooner.

 
 

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