Large infrastructure projects may dominate the headlines, but local authorities were given a timely reminder this week they should not forget the network of roads, which keeps the countryside moving as well.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) published a new report, entitled Going the Extra Mile: Connecting businesses and rural communities, which called on politicians at all levels of government to invest more in our rural transport network.
Specifically, it recommended the ring-fencing of transport funding in local government budgets to ensure this area is not neglected.
The national chair at the FSB, Mike Cherry, commented: ‘The government is investing in transport – but the lion’s share goes to big flagship projects on the strategic road network.
‘The current devolution agenda in England presents a real opportunity to make a positive difference to rural communities. Small businesses want to see more resources earmarked for rural transport.
‘This will help support rural small businesses as well as the UK tourism industry, which are both disproportionately affected when local bus networks and roads are left to deteriorate,’ added Mr Cherry.
Last month, the government announced more than 100 councils in England would receive a total of £50m to help repair almost a million potholes across the country. The latest round of the Pothole Action Fund saw more rural authorities like Durham County Council receive £784,000, which at a average cost of £53 a time will repair almost 15,000 potholes.
London authorities are able to spend over four times more on road maintenance than county councils – County Councils Network
The Local Government Association’s transport spokesperson, Martin Tett, said the £50m of additional funding was a ‘step in the right direction’, but councils need more than 230 times that amount to cover the £11.8bn cost of bringing the UK’s roads up to scratch.
‘Councils share the frustration of motorists having to pay to drive on roads that are often inadequate,’ said Cllr Tett.
‘Our polling shows that 83% of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.’
Perhaps not surprisingly, the economic growth spokesperson for the County Council’s Network (CCN) and Derbyshire County Council leader, Anne Western told Environment Journal ‘funding has not always been kind to rural areas’.
‘As a result, London authorities are able to spend over four times the amount on road maintenance compared to CCN member councils,’ said Cllr Western.
‘The government is preparing its second roads maintenance strategy, and this is a good opportunity to re-examine funding streams, which currently focus on cities, major roads, and motorways.
‘This focus needs to shift more towards county and rural roads, with county businesses accounting for 41% of England’s GVA,’ she added.
‘This year’s pothole fund, although welcome, still failed to plug a year-on-year reduction in roads maintenance budgets for county councils.
‘Despite this, councils have still been efficient in using a dwindling pot of money to keep our networks in good shape, with my council, Derbyshire, fixing 40,000 potholes in 2015-16,’ said Cllr Western.
Photo by JoshuaDavisPhotography