Major investment in roads needed, says committee of MPs

General view of traffic on a motorway

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Investment in England's major roads will need to increase "substantially" during the next decade if traffic forecasts are correct, MPs have said.

Transport Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said a "cross-party consensus" would be required to find ways to fund the investment.

Income from fuel duty was likely to decline due to the growing use of more fuel efficient vehicles, she noted.

But the government said road investment was already being tripled.

The report was entitled Improving England's Strategic Road Network, which comprises the country's motorways and major A-roads and is the responsibility of the Highways Agency.

The government plans to alter the legal status of the agency, which is currently part of the Department for Transport, to make it a "government-owned company".

But the MPs said they were "not convinced" by the case for this change.

Pedestrians and cyclists

Mrs Ellman said: "The Strategic Road Network is a crucial part of our national transport system but has suffered from inconsistent funding and policy over the past 20 years.

"If the traffic forecasts are correct, then government will need to increase investment in the road network substantially over the next decade - a period when we also know that tax revenues from fuel duty are bound to decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient."

The committee has also published another report on the government's policy for national networks, calling on the Department for Transport to be more specific about which types of transport scheme it thinks are needed and more candid about how the construction of major transport schemes can adversely affect communities.

It also said more roads schemes should "embed improvements in road safety for all road users including pedestrians and cyclists".

Mrs Ellman said: "The Department for Transport must plan for new road and rail investment by looking at future passenger and freight demand by route or region, not by looking at road or rail in isolation from each other, as is done at the moment."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said: "We are tripling the amount of investment in our roads to over £3bn a year and will spend £28bn up to 2021.

"Our reforms to the Highways Agency will make sure this money is spent efficiently by introducing long-term funding and independent scrutiny.

"Alongside our national policy statement which supports a balanced package of developments across the road and rail networks - including investment in sustainable transport - our plans will ensure road users get a network that is fit for the 21st Century."

'Missed opportunity'

But Labour's shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh criticised the government's national policy statement.

"The UK needs a coherent road and rail infrastructure plan, but this statement is a missed opportunity by this out-of-touch government," she said.

"This statement is late, light on detail and makes no mention of carbon emissions, air quality or road safety, which are of huge concern to the travelling public.

"The government must ensure a long-term plan for our roads and railways which makes them greener, safer and supports jobs and growth."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "Ministers consult on just about everything under the sun but when it comes to reforming how we manage and pay for our roads they maintain a stony silence.

"This is yet another report which calls on government to at least start talking about how we tackle these issues. Doing nothing will not make the problems go away."

The AA said it fully agreed with the committee's view that there needed to be a substantial increase in investment for roads.

AA president Edmund King said: "Motorists currently contribute around £46bn per annum in taxes yet little more than £8bn is spent on the roads."

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