UK Budget 2012: road finance experiments
The UK budget for 2012 maintains investment in the nation's roads but also explores a divisive new financing scheme. Chris Lo checks out what the budget could mean for the British road network over the next 12 months and beyond.
The recently announced UK budget for 2012 marks significant changes in some areas, but transport investment remains relatively unscathed, with transport spending accounting for just more than 3.2% of total UK spending, a figure almost unchanged since last year.
The government announced several high profile public road projects as part of the budget, along with proposals for new financing models that could see the private sector take a more central role in the maintenance of public roads and highways.
Transport infrastructure spending for 2012 will reach £22bn, £1bn less than in 2011.
UK road network: privatisation on the way?
The 2012 budget document puts into print the announcement made by Prime Minister David Cameron at the beginning of this week that the government would "carry out a feasibility study into new ownership and financing models for the national road network, learning lessons from the water industry, to report on progress by the Autumn Statement 2012".
This proposal, which would open up the potential for private sector investment and ownership in the UK's roads, has already proved controversial, with the Guardian's Aditya Chakrabortty describing this kind of public-private partnership as "a great deal for the companies, but a terrible bargain for the taxpayer". As the Autumn Statement approaches, it's clear this proposal will be a major bone of contention for 2012.
The government is looking at another alternate financing scheme in the form of tolling to fund or part-fund other road improvements. The budget document specifically highlights capacity and performance improvements to the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge as a possibility for part-financing through tolling. As part of the government's £1.7bn package to invest in local transport projects, it will also provide £56m for the Bexhill to Hastings link road in order "to facilitate economic regeneration in a deprived area of the South East".
The government is also planning a major push to improve cycling safety on London's streets, as collisions with cyclists at junctions is proving a major source of injuries and deaths in the capital and elsewhere. The budget has committed £15m to helping Transport for London (TfL) improve cyclist safety at junctions, as stipulated by TfL's cycle safety junction review.