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Institution of Civil Engineers survey says roads and highways top priority for investment

Q2 2010 – the public’s attitude to public services

In the face of further public funding cuts, investment in roads and highways has become more of a priority for the general public according to the latest public service satisfaction survey, released today by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

The survey, which monitors change in attitudes to key public services in the UK, shows that 55% of respondents now think that roads and highways should be the first or second priority for investment, compared to 49% in the first quarter of this year and only 37% this time last year.

The results follow a string of announcements from the new coalition Government detailing significant budget cuts for local transport projects and warnings that there are still more cuts to come. Just this week Chancellor George Osborne called for all departments to cut 40% out of their budgets, with the Department for Transport unlikely to escape with its £7bn capital budget intact.

ICE says further funding cuts to local roads would be extremely detrimental. The engineers’ recent State of the Nation report found local transport networks to be in poor condition, grading it as a ‘D’ or ‘at risk’ sector. It said that as well as needing improved connectivity to national networks and a shift from reliance on private car travel to reduce emissions, there is an increasing need to properly address the growing backlog of maintenance work with long-term preventative solutions not quick fixes. It has been estimated that to clear the existing backlog only would on average take 11.5 years and cost local authorities over £40 million each.

This was exacerbated by the severe 2009/10 winter, which caused a 40% increase in potholes. According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, there is road damage every 120 yards, with the average cost of repairing a pot hole at £78. In light of these issues, the report said any further funding cuts would be disastrous and called for investment to be maintained and wisely allocated.

ICE president Paul Jowitt said: "Our local roads are already under-funded, with a budget shortfall of £1.2 bn across local authorities and maintenance works backed up to the extent it will take more than a decade to address.

"Without increased, or at very least maintained, levels of investment we won’t be able to improve this situation. This will have dire consequences for local communities and the UK as a whole,driving up costs in the long-term as roads continue to deteriorate, and impacting on the local economy as congestion and delays become more frequent.

"In the worst case scenario further funding cuts will seriously detract from the value of the asset, reduce road safety and increase congestion and delays, which will ultimately have a detrimental effect on our economy."

The ICE survey also showed that the public’s view of the importance of investment in our decrepit energy sector is seasonally affected, with it dropping down the list significantly in the summer months. Only 9% of people ranked electricity and gas supply as their number one priority for investment in Q2 2010 (conducted in June) compared to 16% in Q1 (conducted in February) and 18% in Q4 2009 (conducted in December). This trend is consistent since the survey’s inception in December 2008.

ICE president Paul Jowitt warned that this attitude must not affect the much-needed focus on the energy sector. "The UK’s energy sector is in desperate need of attention and while we can understand that the public forget in the warmer months the problems we had with supply over the winter, we are anxious that this attitude does not influence Government or industry to lose focus on the urgency of this issue.

"Winter is just around the corner and before you know it we are going to be battling the same old problems in both these crucial infrastructure networks – lack of salt for gritting roads, potholes and severe delays as public transport struggles with freezing weather and roads are closed, and energy demand hitting a critical level, jeorpardising security of supply. We must start preparing for these now."

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