National Roads Fund: Just £426m in two years for local roads

Chris Ames

The Department for Transport (DfT) has insisted that it will fund ‘over 50’ local road upgrades during this Parliament from its flagship National Roads Fund (NRF) despite allocating just £426m in two years and funding only eight schemes so far.

In response to a written parliamentary question from Labour's shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, transport minister Rachel Maclean disclosed that the DfT’s forecast expenditure in 2020/21 on Major Road Network (MRN) and Large Local Major schemes is £116m, while £310m has been budgeted in 2021/22.'

She added: ‘The budgets for future years are subject to the next Spending Review.’

This total of £426m over two years compares with the £3.5bn that ministers originally said the NRF would provide for local road upgrades from 2020/21 to 2024/25 through the MRN and Large Local Majors.

As Highways has reported, ministers have quietly shifted around £2bn from local roads funding under the NRF, which comes from Vehicle Excise Duty, to pay for additional costs under the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS 2) for the strategic network.

Analysis by Highways shows that existing announcements account for nearly all of the cash budgeted so far. This covers capital funding for eight schemes and development funding for around 20 other schemes.

The 2021/22 budget of £310m matches the amount that the National Infrastructure Strategy said would be spent upgrading the road network during the year.

The document stated: ‘This will support investment in over 50 schemes in this Parliament such as North Hykeham relief road and crossings in both Lake Lothing and Great Yarmouth due to start construction shortly.’

In fact, the Lake Lothing crossing is funded through the Local Growth Fund.

In addition to the two NRF schemes in the NIS, which cost £208m, in February the DfT announced funding totalling £93m for two further MRN schemes and one Large Local Major – a total cost of £301m.

This accounts for almost all of the £310m allocation for 2021/22; however, the DfT told Highways that some funding for these schemes would come from future years’ allocations over the course of the Parliament.

In February the DfT announced £56m to 'overhaul’ the Kex Gill section of the A59

Prior to publication of the NIS, ministers had announced two MRN schemes at York and in Cumbria totalling £38m, as well as £60m for a section of the North Devon Road Link – a Large Local Major scheme for which funding was agreed in 2018.

It appears that the remainder of the 2020/21 spending was for development funding, including six schemes announced by the prime minister in February 2020 and a raft of MRN schemes that the following month’s Budget announced would proceed to the next stage.

The DfT also conceded that the ‘over 50’ schemes cited in the NIS will not, as claimed, all be supported from the £310m for 2021/22 but said they will be delivered during the current Parliament and funded from the NRF, despite there being no further committed funding.

A spokesperson said the schemes are currently scheduled to be funded assuming their deadlines are met as currently set out and that actual amounts of funding in each year are agreed in Spending Reviews.

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