Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Cumbria Branch of the Local Government Association (IT 138)



  1.1 At their meeting on 25 September 1998, the Cumbria Branch of the Local Government Association considered the Integrated Transport White Paper, particularly the main points relevant to Cumbria.

  1.2 One issue on which they wished to make representations to your Committee was the proposal to detrunk certain roads and transfer to local authority management. Members considered the proposal would have a direct detrimental impact on the economic wellbeing of the County and should be strongly opposed. This view was based on two aspects of the local economy:

    —  the level of central government funding for the management of the roads in question;

    —  the ability of regeneration areas to attract inward investment through the status of being served by the nations premier road network.

  1.3 The stance adopted by Members should be considered against the nature of the area they represent. Cumbria is a sparsely populated county at the North West extremity of England, endeavouring to regenerate areas formerly dependent on traditional industries such as coal, steel and shipbuilding, now declined. In support of this regeneration, good standard communications are vital, with inter-urban road flows largely comprising traffic making external connections with the County. It is therefore gratifying to note that one of the criteria for a core network is linking main centres of population and economic activity.


  2.1 165 km of trunk roads in Cumbria are proposed for detrunking and transfer to the County Council. The average annual spend on routine maintenance by the Highways Agency over the last two years on these roads was £738,114 or £4,468 per km. This compares with an average spend by the County Council on the remaining Class 1 roads within the County of £3,768 per km. If the County Council could only spend the same amount per km on the transferred roads the annual total would be £622,474, resulting in a lower standard of maintenance.

  2.2 Under the current SSA formula and allocations per km, the transfer of the detrunked roads to the County Council would raise Cumbria's SSA by £702,000, a sum still short of the Highways Agency's spend. The SSA formula does not at present differentiate primary routes from principal roads, treating all "A" Class roads as principal. As all the trunk roads are also primary routes, a local authority's length of primary routes would be increased on transfer. There are no proposals to amend the formula to take into account primary routes and the higher standard of maintenance which could be expected for them. Thus local authorities taking on greater lengths of detrunked roads, with continued primary route status and higher maintenance requirements would be disadvantaged.


  3.1 Resurfacing and structural maintenance of trunk roads comes under the Highways Agency's heading of Summary Expenditure and fluctuates from year to year between different roads. However, over the last two years, more than £3 million has been spent by the Highways Agency on those roads in Cumbria proposed for detrunking. This average spend of £9,500 per km per annum, is more than double that spent by the County Council on its Class 1 roads. Although the trunk roads will generally carry more traffic, the difference in flows alone does not account for such a difference in spending.

  3.2 Many sections of the roads proposed for detrunking have unsatisfactory alignments, width and junction layouts. Improvements under the current Highways Agency management are carried out through the Network Enhancement Programme. The County will be unable to continue making such improvements due to capital spending limits imposed on local authorities.

  3.3 The contrasting abilities of local authorities and the Highways Agency to undertake capital works is underlined in "A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England". It states in section 7.2, "The Highways Agency estimates that, if it is to carry out roads renewal in good time, it needs at least £300 million per annum for capital maintenance works simply to ensure that the condition of our roads does not get worse. The Government is committed to providing at least this level of funding".


  4.1 The distinction between trunk roads and other roads in the Primary Route Network (PRN) is not apparent to the general road user. The common feature of both types of road is the use of green-backed signs. However, there is the fear that detrunking a route could be perceived as removing it from the premier road network and consequently demoting the status of the area which it serves.

  4.2 Such loss of status has important implications for regenerating local economies where inward investment is being sought. In meeting the expectations of potential investors regarding access, it is important for the main access road to be part of the premier road network. Whether the PRN fulfils this role is uncertain.

  4.3 The loss of status following detrunking would seem highly likely.

9 October 1998

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