Author: Robin Roberts
Plans to privatise England’s roads must be considered, says Prime Minister David Cameron.
His proposals will be outlined later today but media leaks this morning say he wants a new way of building and maintaining new roads and looking after the current network to be funded by private companies who would be given a slice of the road tax and use that to borrow from big investors with repayments over many years.
While new toll roads are probably expected, the Prime Minister has not ruled out privatisation of existing roads with some form of payment involved, possibly creating dedicated “smart lanes” on some of them with users paying to overtake congested sections.
The plans to be considered by Whitehall treasury and highways departments have drawn criticism from motoring groups, who say existing road taxes should be utilised to pay for roads.
IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig said, “British drivers simply don’t trust the government to come up with a new way of paying for roads that will not lead to increased costs in the long run. Drivers already pay far more in taxes and duties than they get back in investment in new roads.”
AA president Edmund King said it was in favour of reform of the Highways Agency, the body which at present looks after the motorways and major A-roads that make up 3% of roads, to allow it to make longer-term plans.
“However there is a big leap between reform of the Highways Agency and new ownership and financing models,” he said.
The Dartford Tunnel was built with the intention of ending tolls when the debt was covered, but they remain in place and add to the cost of business car drivers. The Second Severn Crossing was built by a French company who also acquired the original Severn Bridge in return for tolls, but that agreement expires in 2016 and the Welsh Government will take over responsibility and says it will slash tolls to the level required to simply maintain the two crossings and that could mean tolls reduced to under a quarter of their level.
Tolls have implications for businesses with company vans who have to move goods around and have no viable options.