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

    Comment number 20.

    This country is totally, totally done for - the Government can't even provide the basic services for which it exists. At this rate we have to question why we need more than a handful of brain dead politicians running the country. Yet more shallow thinking from Dave. Next up - nuclear capability and the armed forces - to be managed by

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I'm sure privatising the roads will work out exactly as well as privatising the railways...

    On the up side, it's almost a good idea - more expensive roads cuts down on car travel and therefore pollution. Except that what's really needed is an integrated transport strategy, rather than silo'd, fragmented services operated by different companies.

    In short - nationalise the railways.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Another inept "plan" from the inept "government" Hit the road users with more expense.

    The Road Excise Duty makes a vast PROFIT - but it is not spent on roads. Local councils are expected to repair roads with ever more reductions in grants.

    This "government" is a total farce - punish the poor - support the rich. We need a new government that doesn't contain Tories or Lib-Dems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    cdaly - given the experiences with privatisation of the railways do you honestly believe that the there would be any investment in improving the network; don't think so. As with the railways any investment would come out of higher tolls.
    This is another example of this government's "Going for Growth" which in reality translates out as "Handing it on a silver platter to our mates".

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    If this idea results in the same kind of mess that we now have in
    the railways, then we are all in for a jolly fun time.

    Building more roads will only result in more air pollution and
    climate change gases in the atmosphere, which we will all have
    to pay for no matter who owns or controls them.

    What we really need is more money invested in to footpaths, canals, trams, and public transport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The reason we look to governements is that we already pay vast amounts via vehicle ownership and usage towards keeping the roads in good condition. There is a perennial refusal by the Treasury to hypothecate any taxes for the benefit of activities from which they are sourced.
    Tory asset stripping. The new mantra is 'contact reduction' with the needs of the public, i.e. problems not our fault!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    "Cameron will say there is an urgent need to repair "decades-long degradation" and to "build for the future with as much confidence and ambition as the Victorians once did"
    Is this not what we have government for?
    It seems that this is another abdication of responsibility for the parlous state this country is in.
    All Dave is interested in is privatising the NHS and anything he can make money on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Yep, Road tolls, another way to get the motorist off the highway and onto the trains, who in their right mind will pay the extortionate amount to be treated like cattle on our outdated rail system that is never on time, breaks down or will not stop anywhere near your place of employment ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    is there nothing teh tories wont sell to their mates at knock down prices?
    How long before tbhey start selling the people themselves into slavery?
    Oh silly me they have already started doing that with the way they are removing any rights an employee has in favour of big business making ever greater profits for their directors wages and shareholders bonus's
    Condems are traitiors to this country

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I thought this Govt were totally against saddling future generations with debt......

    Maybe after all it's the only option - like the last Govt needing to use PFI to bridge the gap in infrastructure spending they inherited.

    Unlitmately stuff is expensive & it is time we the public learned to do without the bells and whistles.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It is difficult to be 'green' when the bank account is negative and we are sucking in immigrants and europeans faster than we can cope with them. Surely the building of new homes etc is at an environmental cost and will continue to be so. The real 'ungreen' problem is the farce of wind farms bringing metals made abroad to hillsides here where they work only part time. Farce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So, let's see, we'll now be paying road tax, fuel duty and toll charges? Wonder how much bonus he got for thinking that one up?

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 7.

    Roads for the wealthy.....another thin end of the the stage now that I distrust this government so much if they tried to give me £50 I would look for the hidden motive

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The government should have ring fenced road tax and fuel duty to pay for the maintenance of our road infrastructure. Will we, the motorist, see a reduction in those taxes if the roads network is privatised? Of course not - again, we are being sold down the river by the condems

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Presumably he'll be abolishing road tax to compensate then?

    Tax and don't spend: the catchphrase of a modern government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    How can we wring even more money out of the average working guy, so I can allow my rich banker chums to keep even more of the money that they're supposed to be paying to their investors or in taxes? It's now all about taxing the poor 'til the pips squeak!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The root cause for chronic road congestion is that there are far too many people in this country. The impact of converting a few hard shoulders here and there will be insignificant compared to numbers of people expected to move to Britain. The government should be spending more time coming up with an effective immigration policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    France has private road operators and no Road Fund Licence (RFL).

    On my 5 trips to France per year it costs me far more in tolls than it does in UK RFL for a year.

    This very much seems that the motorist is going to be bled and bled whilst private companies make big profits.

    Yes, there is public transport but if you take London Underground, £4 for one stop!!!!


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