The state of our local highways
The last few years has seen a welcome change in the way highways are viewed politically, with new arrangements in place for the governance of our strategic network and the funding it receives. There have been great strides in improving efficiency in the highways industry, but we need to recognise and highlight that the local highways network needs urgent answers to the questions of funding and governance so that we can truly deliver the service our customers need.
In recent years local highway infrastructure have been under funded and unrecognised for the fundamental role it plays in the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of our nation. Unless a future financial settlement addresses these issues, the country will continue to build up a maintenance backlog for future generations. This backlog will continue to affect the condition of all aspect of highway infrastructure including carriageways, footways, bridges, lighting, signs and drainage infrastructure, all of which are vital in providing local communities with a safe transport network that works effectively.
This is in stark contrast to the strategic road network (SRN) which has been granted increased funding, stable investment and unified governance. 64 per cent of all road traffic is on the local highway network which forms 98% of the overall network, in addition to almost all walking, cycling and bus journeys, and yet the SRN will receive 52 times more funding per mile under current plans. While the SRN should be sufficiently resourced to enable freight and longer journeys, there is a need to recognise the value of local transport.
The state of our local highways is a national issue and there are key issues to be addressed:
Firstly, that local authorities should not be forced into a trade-off between funding local roads and other vital services such as adult social care or children’s services. The removal of ‘ring-fenced’ funding allowed new opportunities for local authorities to choose how they spend their money, and to prioritise the issues of local residents. However, protecting spending in some areas means that other budgets will inevitably be squeezed, leading to a lower quality of service.
Secondly, that the scale of the problem is not fully understood, nor the full benefits that the local highway network brings, as there are no overall comprehensive data sets for local roads, which are managed by 152 different local authorities. There is a range of useful surveys by bodies such as the AIA, RAC, NHT, LGA, AA and UKRLG but none are sufficient to provide the detail needed to develop a structured approach to addressing the issues.
Thirdly, there needs to be a proper consideration of how we fund our local highway network for long term sustainability. Currently there is no relationship between using local highways and paying for them, despite some users such as utilities and freight companies having a disproportionate impact. The creation of a roads funds for the SRN is welcome but given virtually all journeys on the strategic network begin and end on the local network it seems perverse not to extend the principle to the local roads network.
Finally, our roads are there to deliver for all users, not just motorists, so the future of local roads governance and funding must address the needs of walkers, cyclists and all users.
As part of my presidential year I’ll be carrying out a CIHT review into these issues to make some recommendations to government on the future of our local highway network.
Matthew Lugg, OBE, is President of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation
· Matthew will be discussing these issues in the CIHT Theatre at Highways UK on 7 November, starting at 12.00. He is also speaking in the Future Proofing Local Authority Roads panel session in the Jacobs Main Theatre at 09.30 on 8 November. Please come and contribute to the future of our local highway network.
Matthew Lugg – President CIHT