In the budget released on Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed plans to invest £28.8 billion in the National Road Fund but not all seems as it should be. While the huge investment seems to be great news, digging a little deeper shows the true reason behind the decision.
Around £25.3 billion has been sectioned to Highways England to help build and upgrade motorways, with a heavy focus on smart motorways. Smart motorways have long raised suspicion as a cash cow for the government, with £100 fines handed out consistently for all manner of misdemeanours.
Figures show that from when smart motorways were first introduced to the beginning of 2017 a phenomenal £21 million pounds were raised from fines, including speeding and minor transgressions, such as driving in a lane which is closed.
Since then, over 200 miles of smart motorways have been built, double the amount there were previously, leading to the conclusion that an extra £20 million or so could have been raised. It seems clear that the government has realised this potential and so chosen to act on it in order to help generate some revenue for roads.
Variable speed limits have no doubt generated the most in fines, with many people caught out by the sudden changes that can drop to as low as 40mph. Smart motorways are designed to help keep drivers safe and reduce congestion, all which contribute to lowered emissions.
Highways England, speaking to SurreyLive in 2016 said “The government has been clear speed cameras should not be used to generate revenue and the vast majority of motorists are sticking to the speed limits,”
“Variable speed limits on smart motorways are designed to smooth traffic flow, improve journey times and reduce congestion for millions of motorists while also enhancing safety.”
All for the best?
Aside from the cash cow issue, others have condemned the rise in funding for major roads as “not sustainable” and “gearing up to create more pollution that wrecks our climate.”
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald spoke out on the decision to increase funding saying “With car dependency rising, public transport in decline and local roads in a state of disrepair, ramping up spending on major roads is the wrong decision.”
“It simply isn’t sustainable to repeatedly ramp-up major road spending, especially at a time when air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths each year and climate change is threatening a global crisis.”
The climate change argument is one that has been echoed across the industry, especially as grants to buy a new electric car have been cut. There has also been no relief for business who buy electric cars as the tax for low emission company cars to 16% for 2019 and then fall to 2% in 2020, a move discouraged by MPs and industry leaders alike.
“Peeing in the sea?”
Along with the £25.3 billion for roads, Mr Hammond also pledged an extra £420 million for pothole repairs, which would be made available immediately as the backlog from bad weather earlier this year continues to mount.
However, this figure has been dismissed as “peeing in the sea” by Mr Pothole, an anti-pothole campaigner. He pointed out that Kent Council alone had a £630 million backlog, and they had the second highest number of potholes in any county, ahead of Surrey which, back in January had over 6,700 unfixed potholes. The total sum to fix all of the potholes and bring the roads to an adequate state of repair would cost in the region of £9 billion, hence the “peeing in the sea” comparison.
The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) also commented on this, saying that over 10 years an extra £1.5 billion would be needed to bring the roads to an adequate condition and “halt the ongoing decline.”
In a hidden segment of the budget, a small text portion revealed that Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) was going to increase in with RPI from April 2019. With VED now being ring-fenced to help maintain the Strategic Road Network, perhaps the thought process behind the increase was motorists may be happy to pay more if they know that it is going straight on roads.
For some motorists who are buying new cars, they could be paying an increase of up to £65 extra a year, coming into effect on April 1st, 2019, depending on the emissions level of the car. For most drivers this will mean an annual increase of £5 a year on their yearly payments, taking it to £145 for petrol and diesel cars and £135 for hybrids. This is now the third year in a row that VED has increased and another increase is expected in 2020.
Do you think the budget will help or hinder motorists? What do you think about the increase of smart motorways? Let us know in the comments below