For decades, funding to maintain Britain’s road network in a serviceable condition has been inadequate, especially the bulk of road mileage for which local authorities are responsible. The result has been severe deterioration of road surfaces and, in some cases, structural failure. The plague of potholes is causing millions of pounds worth of damage to vehicles each year and, in worst cases, loss of life. This is unacceptable in a first world country.
The government’s own statistics demonstrate how important the road network is to the national economy. The most recent figures from Transport Statistics UK (produced by the Department for Transport) have 89% of passenger kilometres travelled by road – that includes cars, vans, taxis, buses, coaches, motor cycles and pedal cycles. It is 88% if you exclude pedal cycles. 89% of inland freight tonnes was carried by road. Total transport expenditure for the last two years for which figures are available was £32.5bn, of which £10.2bn (31%) was spent on roads and £17.5bn (54%) on railways. The most important element in the national transport infrastructure gets the minority of the money.
Yet our government continues to insist on backing HS2, despite widespread opposition, a flawed business plan, and ever mounting cost projections. “The ABD is pro-road but not anti-railway”, said ABD Chairman Ian Taylor. “If the railways weren’t there, the roads wouldn’t cope – and vice versa. We are, however, opposed to HS2, which looks ever more likely never to be completed as planned. There is a far greater need to upgrade and increase capacity on the existing rail network.”
The ABD therefore proposes, based on the figures above, that HS2 be scrapped, entirely and immediately. 85% of the funding released should be used to clear the backlog of surface and structural carriageway damage to the road network and to provide funds for ongoing high standard maintenance in future. The other 15% to be used to fund and bring forward improvements to the existing rail network – the government now admits that HS2 is about boosting capacity rather than improving journey times. This should concentrate on links between London, the Midlands and across the North of England, and could include a small amount of additional track such as the proposed Oxford-Cambridge link (subject to economic justification).