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 1080.

    There is a far bigger picture here with the total breakdown and total corruption with our politicians. The UK has never so desperately needed a revolution as it does now. We are being sold-off and ripped off by the very people that we vote into power yet so many people continue to vote for these hideously vile individuals - Labour, Conservative & Lib Dem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1079.

    So - we will continue to pay road tax and full fuel duty, but also move towards toll roads as well? We pay for our roads through road tax, only about 30% of which goes on roads anyway, so the government will spend even less of this income by cutting costs with private providers charging tolls. Logic seems to be if we make tolls normal, then we have to pay. Road tax cut Mr Cameron?? Doubt it

  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    "for example water - is funded by private sector capital..."

    And there's me thinking the customer was funding it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1077.

    The Tories told us to get on our bikes in the 80's, now we have no alternative.

    They have sold off everything they can lay their hands on, what will happen when the Countries cupboard is bare ? DC et al will fade away in exile as they have no idea on how to create wealth, just like modern day Del-Boys.

    We need a Robin Hood to stop the Robbing Tories

  • Comment number 1076.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1075.

    Can you imagine what the state of our roads would be like privatised. It's bad enough locally trying to get the council to fix pot holes since maintenance is under private contract.

    This move would also allow road owners to introduce tolls, parking fees and fines ad lib.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1074.

    Along with all the other Labour and Liberal voters, we knew this would happen. Privitisation of our utilities and the railways has been a complete and utter (expensive) disaster to this country and a huge reason not to repeat history. To the Tory voters: I assume you're happy with this; after all, this IS what you voted and so you have no reason to complain. Thanks for that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1073.

    I only wish we could organise ourselves better. We could teach this (and future!) government (and a couple of the commentators below) a lesson in allocating funding from taxes.
    If all smokers stopped smoking and all drivers stopped driving (and claimed back their tax discs) for one year, I think taxes would be allocated and raised more sensibly.
    Shame we couldn't organise this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1072.

    road privatisation simply doesnt work. Two examples. the M6, noone uses at there are ways round it. The Dartford Crossing, no choice but to go over it and you end up with 10 mile tailbacks. Who cares about that though so long as there are certain people lining their pockets.

    This shower of clowns will be privatising pavements next.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1071.

    Dear Mr Cameron, all this tiresome privatisation of public property by stealth is taking an excessive amount of time - very inefficient I'm sure you'll agree.

    Why not instead set up a "Chums Fund" in the Cayman islands which we the unwashed, pay into. I'm sure the chairman of your party has a few accounts handy?

    Chums are happy and less energy spent in selling off any more more public property

  • rate this

    Comment number 1070.

    Save money by scrapping politicians

  • rate this

    Comment number 1069.

    Is there any way for the public to trigger a vote of no confidence, and force an election??? SURELY there must be some way to do that? RIGHT? Please someone reply and tell me theres some way to do that...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1068.

    1034 - Well said. Western oil consumption has fallen during the last 5 years, every drop of that reduction has been taken up by emerging economies. If, and it is a big if, Western economies cease to shrink, oil prices will rise and rise, pushing most economies into new recessions. DC is deluded, in the future transport costs will restrict movement far more than congestion, road quality wont matter

  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    Toll roads are a great idea, infact i'll get a dozen friends together and man the toll booths ourselves. Just think 30k cars at £3 a trip over a year is £32m! Less VAT of course. Then all i have to do is hire a local firm to fill pot holes etc. No need for lighting the road - as cars have their own lights. Then in 10 years time hand the road back to the government.

    Honestly Mr C, i'll do it

  • rate this

    Comment number 1066.

    Contempt of court and perverting the course of justice are serious crimes.

    When will society modernise and make contempt of public's right to ownership and perverting the course of democracy become crimes, and see our leaders have something to lose for their ideological nightmares they keep inflicting on US and OUR services WE already pay for

  • rate this

    Comment number 1065.

    Why do the English keep voting this lot in? I really don't understand it. At least they can't sell off our roads in Scotland - why would we want to be united when this lot are in charge?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1064.

    The reason for road congestion in my opinion is:

    1) overpopulation
    2) trains too expensive

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    Can someone ask those insular people we call MP's why there is a road tax? It's not to support the benefit system. It should be for exactly what it's entitled the "Road". More privatisation = more cost to the road user = more big profits= less money in your pocket. You can only fill a pint glass with a pint and conversely only get a pint out. I think eventually we will see blood from a stone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    1013. dirk
    I have felt for some time that we are in the final stages of the Great British sell off.
    The myth that Privatisation of public services improves choice & drives down costs has been shown to be a farce; the railways, water works & PFI’s being good examples.
    Private monopolies are even worse than public ones; who are the Gov’ really working for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    More privatisation from the Tories, surprise, surprise eh!

    The British countryside, the NHS, now this. Doubt there will be any publicly owned services left by the time they have finished.


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