Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Road Haulage Association Ltd (RM 13)

MAINTENANCE OF MOTORWAYS, TRUNK ROADS AND LOCAL AUTHORITY PRINCIPAL ROADS

1.  INTRODUCTION

  The Road Haulage Association (RHA) was formed in 1945 to look after the interests of haulage contractors in various areas of the country, in effect, amalgamating local organisations that had been established. The association has subsequently developed to become the primary trade association representing the hire-or-reward sector of the road transport industry. There are now some 10,000 companies in membership varying from major companies with over 5,000 vehicles down to owner-drivers.

2.  BACKGROUND TO THE INDUSTRY

  The road haulage industry plays a pivotal role in the UK economy carrying some 81 per cent of all domestic freight. In 1999 this amounted to:

    —  991 million tonnes carried in hire-or-reward vehicles;

    —  576 million tonnes carried in own account operators' vehicles;

    —  a total of 1.567 billion tonnes moved by road transport;

    —  149 billion tonne kilometres on road transport; and

    —  an average length of haul of 50 km for rigid vehicles, 136 km for articulated lorries and 95 km as an overall average.

  There are around 112,000 holders of operating licences, some for own-account transport and others for the provision of hire-or-reward services. Between them they operate some 421,000 goods vehicles of over 3.5 tonnes gross weight of which about 70,000 are 38 tonne lorries. It is worth noting that 20 years ago approximately 500,000 vehicles carried a smaller volume of traffic reflecting the very considerable efficiency gains that the industry has made. The industry employs about 500,000 drivers together with a similar number of ancillary staff in warehouses, workshops and offices.

  Moreover, the industry makes a major contribution to the exchequer through Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), fuel duty, Operators' Licence fees as well as Value Added Tax (VAT), income tax paid by employers, corporation tax and council tax on premises.

3.  THE NEED FOR AN EFFICIENT ROAD NETWORK

  The UK road network is essential to modern day life. The economic and social well being of the country depends upon the efficient movement of goods and services. Yet there are now large sections of the network, which experience serious congestion on a daily basis damaging both the environment and the economy. [Estimates of the cost to the economy of congestion range from £15 billion (CBI) to £19.1 billion a year (Newbery and Maddison with Pearce and others).]

  In the longer term, the RHA believes that the solution to our transport problems will rely heavily on reducing the need to travel through the better integration of land use, planning and transport policies and by encouraging travel where possible, by modes other than the car. Much progress has been made in this area, but lead times are such that the real benefits will not be evident for some years. In the meantime therefore additional measures must be taken in other areas.

  The RHA recognises that a large programme of road building does not provide a sustainable, long-term solution. That said, it is clear that do nothing is not an option and that investment in the road network is urgently needed. There are three areas where such investment should be targeted:

    —  making better use of existing infrastructure through increased use of technology eg variable message signs and speed limits etc;

    —  maintaining the existing network; and

    —  providing additional capacity to eliminate safety or congestion blackspots.

4.  PROGRESS SO FAR—THE 10 YEAR PLAN

  The RHA welcomes the Government's acceptance of the need for vastly increased levels of investment in transport and for a long-term plan to tackle the problems that exist. Previously investment levels and Government plans were set out as part of the annual Public Expenditure Survey and provided details of investment only for the following three years—and even then, such levels were subject to renegotiations each year. Such a system did not provide the long-term stability needed to encourage private investment in our transport infrastructure and also resulted in badly needed infrastructure improvement projects being "stretched out" over a much longer time scale or, in extreme cases, cancelled all together.

  The RHA believes that the Ten Year Plan, whilst being far from the answer to all our prayers, will provide for significant improvement.

4.1  Motorways and Trunk Roads

  Motorways and trunk roads—otherwise known as the strategic road network—comprise less than 4 per cent of the English Road network. But despite this, they currently carry 34 per cent of all traffic and the vast majority of freight (67 per cent). For RHA members therefore, such roads are crucial to the successful and efficient running of their businesses. Since the efficient delivery of goods and services are an essential part of the way we live today; it is in everyone's interest that the system is kept in excellent condition.

  The Government claims in the document that "the recent investment backlog of maintenance work has now been eliminated". Although the RHA does not conduct surveys of road condition, based on the information from and comments made by our members, we do not believe that the Government can afford to be complacent, particularly when organisations such as the National Audit Office criticise the way in which road maintenance is managed. The increased levels of funding made available through the Ten Year Plan is an excellent start to improving road maintenance—but it is only part of the story.

  Making the funds available does not in itself achieve a well-maintained network—those funds must be used in the most efficient way possible to maximise the benefits. The Highways Agency has recently adopted a new approach to road maintenance known as Route Management Strategies (RMS). The aim of RMS is "to provide a way of planning future investment in the maintenance, operation and improvement of the network, which integrates local and regional land and transport interests in the decision making process". The Government believes that this approach will improve upon the current situation by allowing a consistent approach over a period of around 10 years, which addresses the needs of the whole route rather than looking at individual problem areas.

  The RHA welcomes this new approach as a step in the right direction. We believe that maintenance of such a valuable asset as the strategic road network must not be tackled piecemeal but should be properly planned and executed and monitored against agreed performance criteria. The BRF has long believed that the best way to achieve this objective would be the establishment of an Independent Road Inspector. The RHA agrees that such a move could bring further benefits by making those involved more directly accountable to users of the network.

4.2  Local Roads

  Whilst the majority of freight journeys take place on the strategic road network, the importance of local roads to the Road Haulage Industry must not be underestimated. Hauliers will frequently choose motorways or trunk roads over local roads as they reduce the time taken for the journey (and usually also the fuel consumed). However, many journeys will start and/or finish with a stretch of local road—a large number of shops and businesses (ie hauliers' customers) are situated in town centres, not on the sides of motorways.

  Local roads are perhaps the cause of greater concern, in terms of their state of repair, even than motorways and trunk roads. Even the Government recognises that the situation is unacceptable. The Ten-Year Plan states "Due to past under-investment, local roads are now in their worst condition for thirty years, with a backlog of maintenance estimated at several billion pounds and their condition is still declining. This means that substantial sums are being wasted as roads are allowed to deteriorate to the point where more extensive, costly and disruptive repairs are required".

  The Government's solution has been to increase the funds available to local authorities and to require the production of strategies to eliminate the backlog by 2010. Performance will be monitored by Government through the annual reports which local authorities are required to produce on the delivery of their local transport plans. Whilst in theory this should bring about significant improvements, the RHA remains sceptical about the ability of local authorities to deliver such a programme.

4.3  Detrunking

  In general the RHA supports the principle that local authorities should be given greater responsibility for transport decisions in their areas. Therefore we support the Government's proposals to require local authorities to produce local transport plans. However, clearly some local authorities are "more experienced" than others in considering the transport needs of their local areas and we are pleased therefore that the Government is providing comprehensive advice as to the general strategy that should apply.

  That said, the RHA is very concerned about the Government's plans to detrunk a large number of trunk roads. There are a number of reasons for this concern:

    —  In many parts of the country, the Government's proposals will result in there being no effective strategic network (ie suitable alternatives simply do not exist). The existence of a strategic network is crucial for long distance freight traffic;

    —  We believe that once local authorities assume responsibility for such routes, they will seek to impose unnecessary weight limits (in the RHA's Midland & Western region there are already examples of local authorities seeking to impose 17 tonne limits on primary routes). The RHA believes that authorities must be given very clear instruction in this area;

    —  Funding—the RHA is concerned that local authorities will not have sufficient resources to be able to maintain the roads to the necessary standard.

  Freight transport very rarely conducts all its business/journeys within a single local authority's boundary. Indeed in the vast majority of cases, business is conducted across many regions within the UK. Thus, it is essential that neighbouring authorities (or regions) do not seek to implement policies which contradict with their neighbours'. This can only be achieved if authorities are prepared to work closely together, and Government is prepared to maintain careful scrutiny. We are not yet convinced that such co-operation will occur—we have evidence already of different counties opposing each others' proposals for weight limits!

5.  FURTHER STEPS REQUIRED

  The RHA believes than an efficient, well-maintained road network is essential to the economic and social well being of the country and that failure to provide such a network would have a serious detrimental impact. The Government has taken some welcome first steps towards improving the situation in terms of increasing the levels of investment available for maintenance both of the national and local networks and for establishing the principal of long-term financial planning for transport.

  However, the RHA believes that this cannot be the end of the story. There are a number of steps that we consider necessary to ensure that improvements continue to be made. These include the following:

    —  The programme of maintenance of the strategic network must be more accountable to ensure that Government and road users are receiving best value. This could be achieved by establishing agreed criteria against which performance should be measured. The process should be overseen by an independent body.

    —  Additional mechanisms need to be found through which Government can ensure that local authorities are able to meet their commitments to maintain roads in their areas to the required levels and to ensure that the current backlog is eliminated within the timescales set by Government.

    —  Investment, not only for road maintenance but also for other areas of transport, must be sustained at acceptable levels and the Government must ensure increased "certainty" of those levels. Investment levels which "see-saw" results in unnecessary expense for the taxpayer, increased pollution and congestion and additional detrimental effects on the economy.

6.  CONCLUSIONS

  The RHA welcomes the Committee's inquiry and hopes that it will lead to the further steps being taken by Government that we feel are necessary to facilitate the required improvement to our road network. For too long investment in roads (even for maintaining the ones we have already) has been considered unnecessary or even undesirable. This situation must be reversed or the consequences for our environment and for our economy will be significant.

January 2001


 
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