Pressure group slams UK road plans

Campaign for Better Transport has criticised various methods that have been discussed for the privatisation of the UK road network. It calls for roads to be funded by public money and for private investors to focus on the rail sector instead.

In a new report entitled “Problems with private roads”, the Campaign for Better Transport pressure group has criticised plans to attract private capital into UK road building and widening which, it says, “have been a constant topic of ministerial (and prime ministerial) speeches”.

The group claims that pension funds are already “going cold” on the idea of toll roads as they are “aware of the risks of putting their members’ savings into greenfield new-builds of any kind”.

It says toll roads are the “least realistic” of all options, saying the eight-year-old M6 Toll “is proving as unpopular as ever. Latest financial reports show that investors lost more than £40 million last year thanks to falling patronage, with UK drivers and HGV operators shunning the idea of pay-to-drive even more firmly now than before austerity struck”.

Therefore, “those tasked with finding off-balance sheet ways of kickstarting a new roads programme have been casting around for other ways” of doing it.

It says that “ideas discussed have ranged from old-style PFI [Private Finance Initiative] deals to hypothecating all the money raised from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) into the trunk road network – a major turnaround in Treasury policy if it happened, and effectively a return of the old Road Fund Licence which was abolished more than 75 years ago”.

The organisation’s report says that, rather than looking at roads, private investors should examine “the many alternative low-risk, long-term public transport investments that would perfectly meet the needs of pension funds, primarily focused on railway lines, developments around railway stations and light rail in cities”.

It says that public money for roads should be diverted away from “PFI new builds” and towards repair and maintenance of existing roads and “dealing with causes of traffic delay without increasing capacity” such as the removal of level crossings.

The UK’s coalition government is currently undertaking a feasibility study to look at ways of utilising private investment to improve the UK’s roads network. The study, due to report in the autumn, is expected to consider more tolls, shadow tolls and other types of funding.