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UK infrastructure needs long-term planning and funding certainty to catch rivals

CECA director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner calls on the government to make up lost ground on Britain’s ageing infrastructure.

Who suffers due to the underperformance of the UK’s roads sector? The answer is all of us.

More than 90 per cent of journeys in the UK are made by road. The quality of roads infrastructure affects everyone in Britain, from motorists and commuters to communities and businesses up and down the country.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association has long argued that the UK is lagging behind its competitors in this vital aspect of our infrastructure.

The 2012/13 Global Competitiveness Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Britain’s roads infrastructure at 24th out of 144 competitor countries, despite being the world’s seventh largest economy.

By contrast, Germany was ranked in 10th place for the overall quality of its roads, with France in first. The UK was ranked behind Cyprus, Chile and Portugal.

And yet the roads sector in Britain is currently undergoing a fiscal squeeze that has seen it lapse to fourth place in the Office for National Statistics’ breakdown of output in the infrastructure sector, having been the most important aspect of the industry as recently as this time last year.

Many parts of the UK’s strategic roads network are operating at or above capacity, plagued by congestion and unfit to meet projected future demand.

Long-term investment plan needed

So what should government do about this? CECA has campaigned on the need for the government to create a settled long-term strategic roads investment programme, and to establish a proactive maintenance regime for roads based on ‘whole-life’ value.

“The extra £333m for highways spending is merely a fragment of what will be required”

Our roads network must be safe and sustainable, and new roads must be built when necessary to meet the needs of an increasing, car-dependent population, capable of supporting the business growth the economy so badly needs.

CECA welcomed the chancellor’s announcement in his autumn statement that the Treasury has allocated an extra £333 million for highways spending, but this is merely a fragment of what will be required to provide the UK with an internationally competitive transport infrastructure in the coming years.

It is vital that certainty in roads investment is established – and that the government follow through on its previous commitment to consider the future ownership and management of the strategic roads network without delay.

Important decision for UK business

While it is clear that any decision on the future of roads ownership and funding will be controversial, it is a hugely important decision for the economic health of UK plc.

CECA looks forward to working with government and other industry bodies to ensure the best outcome for the roads sector, providing sufficient levels of investment while getting the best deal for the taxpayer.

The government must not shy away from making tough decisions if it is to tackle the brewing crisis in the roads sector, and must consider all options to attract the investment the sector so badly needs.

Alasdair Reisner is director of external affairs at CECA.

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