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 1100.

    When the tsunami hit Japanese shores last year, they rebuilt parts of a motorway within weeks. If the same thing happened here we'd still be a year into an enquiry and the roads will still be in disrepair. What on earth happened to our bulldog spirit, our sense of pride and justice? Or have we become a nation of liars and thieves all out for fast money with no one wanting to take blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    6 Hours ago

    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,

    The revenues from those duties are spent on the lefties pampering welfare state for societies dossers and benfits chavs..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    I can just about aford to get to work in my own car, fuel & road tax cost a fortune. Government want us using public transport but thats more than using my car but if I have to pay to use the roads as well I will be unable to afford to get to work. Tolls will increase public transport as well so looks like I will be doomed to leave work altogether & be a hermit because I can't aford to venture out

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    This is typical Tories see everything off because they know when its done no government can every buy things back. The French will own the power network so who will get the road infrastructure? If it does go ahead hopefully the Germans as at least then they might be worth paying for. I take it there is no proposal to remove road tax if it goes through

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    Cameron has a nerve. He's spending £41 billion on a high speed railway which only connects 4 cities. It's taxpayer's cash that should be spent on roads and railways we actually need and use everyday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.


    I suppose you coudl start an online petition, and once it gets to 100,000 it has to be debated.

    Trouble is, they'll just ignore you, or you'll br told by the petition watchers that it's not a valid petition. Or a Civil Servant will provide some incomprehensible response, or you'll be tried for treason!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1094.

    How do you know?Pure supposition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1093.

    Motorists pay £50bn a year in motoring taxes alone; only about a fifth of this is spent on the roads. The money is there to maintain the existing infrastructure AND build the new roads that are required!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1092.

    David Cameron asks why should the water industry be privately financed (by foreign companies?) whereas roads are publicly financed. We all have to use both roads and water. As far as the consumer is concerned, the question is irrelevant. The consumer pays whatever the system. The only economics difference is that the consumer will pay an extra marginal profit to private ownners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1091.

    I think the government should rename the "Road Tax" because it blatantly isn't failing that ring fence the road tax and use it for what it was supposed to be used for in the first place.... but that's FAR too simple isn't it......

  • rate this

    Comment number 1090.

    Parallels with Health & Social Care 'reforms'? Same principle, put out to market and regulate (and how effective have the regulatory systems been in the health & care arena and in financial services, for that matter). I'm not necessarily against road tolls or even some co-payments for health but please let's be explicit about it so we can debate fully, rather than obfuscating a la NHS Bill

  • rate this

    Comment number 1089.

    If the prime minister is heading down this road, does this mean that he is going to abolish road tax? This is supposed to be the fund for our road network, somehow I don’t think so. This is just another tool to destroy the UK economy by squeezing more money out of businesses making them less competitive and the general public so they can squander it on the old boys club / foreign trips / etc.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 1087.

    Dave, put the olympics on ebay. Put a reserve of about £500,000,000 on it and get rid sharpish. Watch out for Greece though, they have negetive feedback for nonpayment. I hear China may be interested. Once the Cheque has cleared, go and resurface our existing roads, there's a good chap. We are unjustifiably, disproportionately taxed in this country, usually under false pretence. Go team GB woooo

  • rate this

    Comment number 1086.

    Water, power, rail network & so on. All now private, all owned by overseas companies, all have offshore bank accounts. Profits go out of the country or to pockets of a select few. Gov now wants to do the same with NHS, royal mail, roads network. etc.
    DC doesn't care, fatcat mates, lining their pockets because of tory policy.
    Sooner we have a general election & get this shower out, the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1085.

    Can anyone think of anything privatised that has actually improved?

    British Telecom. Would never have got digital exchange upgrades in the 80s or broadband in the 90s if it had been in public hands as the required billions of pounds of investment would not have been given.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1084.

    This is ludicrous, totally insane. We pay 'road tax' we pay 'fuel duty.' How much of this is spent on the road and transport infrastructure? To quote Euro toll roads is plain stupid. In France there is no road tax... And.. have you been stuck in the queues on French motorways, for hours, to pay the toll. Why pay profits to the Chinese for a one lane upgrade of some roads? We need an election now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1083.

    Has the government forgotten so soon? There's plenty of evidence that building more roads simply generates more traffic. All the frantic road-building in the 1970s - 1990s has failed to solve congestion problems and we're back with more congestion than ever. Whatever its many faults, the last Labour government recognised that investing in railways is the only solution. It still is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1082.

    As supposedly some of the increase in insurance is because of extra claims for damage from potholes some of the funding should come from car insurance companies
    This should also be the case for funding removing those drivers without insurance, instead of which insurance companies see it as an additional way to charge legal drivers more money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1081.

    Well, since local councils seem inept at managing the state of our roads I don't see the problem in letting companies have a go to be honest. Also a reduction in road tax would be expected if the government was no longer paying the upkeep.

    However in no way should companies who decide to take over sections of the road be subsidised by the government.

    I'm sick of dodging potholes/craters.


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