Huge estimating errors in road building costs, creating equally huge uncertainty for users and the economy, are unacceptable from a professional Highways Agency with inadequate funds available for investment. The UK's world class economy needs a world class roads system and there seems little hope of that being delivered at present, whilst estimates are so inaccurate. It is vital for industry and the economy that the Government and the Highways Agency sort out the cost issues for major roads projects and create a network that meets the needs of the twenty-first century. The Freight Transport Association says that the UK needs a roads infrastructure which enables industry to deliver the economy with reliability and efficiency, and without the gross waste of time and money presently experienced.
FTA was responding to last week's publication of the National Audit Office report 'Department for Transport: estimating and monitoring the costs of building roads in England', and the Nichols Report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport on the Highways Agency major roads programme. Both reports were critical of the significant increases in cost estimates for major road schemes and called for management which more accurately reflected realistic costs early in the planning process.
Speaking at the Association's Yorkshire & Humberside Dinner in Wakefield on Thursday (22 March) FTA Chief Executive Richard Turner said, 'Whilst we note that the biggest single factor identified in cost increases has been the higher than expected inflation in construction prices, the scale of the increases – as much as 25 per cent in eighteen months – seems to bear little relevance to general inflation levels and becomes very difficult to justify to an industry needing to cope with its own economic pressures. And though fuel costs obviously made a significant contribution to these increases, the Government has itself been a key beneficiary – higher fuel costs mean higher VAT income for the Treasury and more tax revenue from road users that ought to be reinvested in roads.
'Of course, we welcome proposals for the management of road building programmes which recognise the uncertainty at different stages of scheme development, and produce cost estimates which are more accurate and meaningful. But the most important issue is the need for the UK to create a roads network fit for the purpose of moving goods and people in an economic and efficient way without the unacceptable levels of congestion and waste that we experience at present, following years of under-investment by this and previous governments.
'Although we must be prudent and responsible in our road building planning and expenditure, we must also acknowledge the absolute need for increasing our roads capacity and get on with it. We simply do not have sufficient capacity on our key trade routes. There can be no doubt that, viewed in the interests of the economy as a whole, investing in an improved roads network will benefit reliable delivery, reduce the impact of wasteful congestion, and make both economic and environmental good sense.'
The full report 'Department for Transport: estimating and monitoring the costs of building roads in England' can be found on: http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/nao_reports/06-07/0607321.pdf
The Freight Transport Association represents the interests of companies moving goods by road, rail, sea and air. FTA members operate over 200,000 goods vehicles – almost half the UK fleet. In addition they consign over 90 per cent of the freight moved by rail and over 70 per cent of sea and air freight.