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Roads to Nowhere

Government plans for Highways Agency bloated and inflexible

6 June 2014
Campaigners have warned that the Government's new Infrastructure Bill will pave the way for a new wave of road building while reducing communities' ability to have their concerns heard.
 

James MacColl, Campaigns Director, Campaign for Better Transport, said

"The Government's Infrastructure Bill risks creating a bloated and inflexible version Highways Agency. The new motorway company will have a huge budget to wreak havoc through the Government's massively damaging programme of new roads."

James MacColl continued

"While road builders are getting swaths of new money and power, they will be less accountable for how they act. The new roads companny will not have to answer questions from the public like the existing Highways Agency. While drivers will get a formal voice, local communities and other interests like conservation will have no way to get their concerns heard. This is big omission and needs to be urgently addressed."

The Infrastructure Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech and was introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Kramer on 5 June. It contains measures to create a strategic highways company, and to speed up land-use planning for nationally significant infrastructure projects including transport projects:  and housing and regeneration and to give communities the right to buy stakes in local renewable electricity generation.

Key measures in the Bill include

  • Establishing the Highways Agency as a Strategic Highways Company responsible for implementing a Road Investment Strategy (RIS). As a public body, the existing Highways Agency is required to answer Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. Despite being funded entirely from the public purse, the new Strategic Highways Company will not be a public body and will not therefore be subject of FoI rules.
  • The RIS will sets objectives and funding from the Department for Transport for a given period
  • Progress with the implementation of the RIS will be made by a new unit in the Office of the Rail Regulator
  • Passenger Focus will take on a role 'to protect and promote the interests of users of highways' on both the strategic and local road network
  • As a public body, the existing Highways Agency is required to answer Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. Despite being funded entirely from the public purse, the new strategic roads company will not be a public body and will not therefore be subject of FoI rules.
  • Planning panels dealing with appeals to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (including major transport projects) will only have to consist of 2 people, rather than 3 to 5 as currently
  • Give the Secretary of State more discretion to make 'non-material changes' to major planning applications

James MacColl, continued

"Proposing further planning reform to speed up major projects has become a default position for successive Governments. It may seem attractive, but examinations already proceed at a breakneck pace which risks poor decisions and more cases ending up in the courts. There must be proper time to examine important issues like air pollution and the effects on local communities."

 

Notes

 

1. The Infrastructure Bill 2014 was announced in the Queen's Speech and was introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Kramer on 5 June. The Bill's Second Reading will take place in the Lords on 18 June 2014.

It contains measures to create a strategic highways company, control invasive non-native species, speed up planning for nationally significant infrastructure projects and housing and regeneration and to give communities the right to buy stakes in local renewable electricity generation.

2. The Government is bringing forward significant road building plans with £28bn set aside for roads in the next Parliament as part of the National Infrastructure Plan. Half of this is for the construction of new roads.

Government intends to increases in the Agency's capital budget from £1.5bn in '14/5 to £3.8bn in '20/21.

 

3. The majority of motorists regard the condition of existing roads as the key priority for investment. This reflects concerns concerns over the condition of local roads. Based on its survey of local authorities, the Asphalt Industry Alliance puts the repairs backlog at £12bn.