Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Construction Products Association (TYP 17)


  The Construction Products Association represents manufacturers and suppliers of products and materials to the construction industry. It has an annual turnover in excess of £30bn and accounts for nearly 20 per cent of UK manufacturing output. The Association's membership includes practically all the major companies in the industry, including Hanson, RMC, Corus, Pilkington, Lafarge and Saint-Gobain, as well as nearly 40 sector specific trade associations.

  The construction products industry has a considerable interest in the efficient operation of the transport system in this country. First, when measured by volume, the industry is the major user of the transport network in this country. Secondly, improvements to the transport infrastructure, as well as its on-going repair and maintenance, are a major market for our industry's products. In both capacities, we are only too well aware of the decades of underinvestment in our transport infrastructure compared with other European and North American countries, and the adverse consequences of this on the competitiveness of industry in this country and the quality of life of its citizens.

  The Association was greatly encouraged by the proposals in the Comprehensive Spending Review 2000 for increased investment in the built environment generally, and the transport infrastructure in particular, as set down in the 10-Year Transport Plan. We are keen, however, to ensure these plans are turned into reality, and in the middle of last year the Association published a report—"Achievable Targets? Investment Realised?" — which brought together all the targets the Government has set in respect of housing, school buildings, hospital buildings and roads, and assessed whether these were mechanisms in place to monitor progress towards meeting these targets. The comments below are based on the findings of this study in respect of proposals for improving the road network in this country.


  We were encouraged that the Government set specific targets for improving the road network, in particular to:

    —  reduce congestion on inter-urban routes by 2010 to a level 5 per cent below that in 2000.

    —  maintain the motorway and trunk network at the "optimum" level of repair with maintenance work carried out on 7 per cent-8 per cent of the network annually.

    —  halt the deterioration in the condition of the local road network by 2004 and eliminate the repair backlog by 2010.

    —  install quieter surfaces on 60 per cent of the strategic road network by 2010.

  Our main concern, however, is the extent to which information is, or will be, available which will make it possible to monitor progress towards meeting these targets.


  Reducing congestion on the road network is a major government objective and whilst there is a clear target for 2010, there are no intermediate targets to allow progress to be monitored. Even more alarming is the fact that despite having set this target, only now are DTLR and the Commission for Integrated Transport seeking to develop better definitions and improved data on congestion. We encourage the Sub-Committee, therefore, to recommend that:

  DTLR and the Commission for Integrated Transport should come to an early decision on accepted measures of congestion on the inter-urban road network, and establish a framework for monitoring on an annual basis progress towards meeting the target to reduce congestion by 5 per cent by 2010.

Condition of the Road Network

  Although regular official surveys are carried out on the condition of the road network, these do not contain an estimate of the cost of bringing the network up to an acceptable standard. The only estimates that are available come from independent sources. It is not possible therefore to use Government information to assess the extent to which the spending proposals are sufficient to ensure the targets that have been set are actually met. We, therefore, urge the Sub-Committee to recommend that.

  In advance of the next Comprehensive Spending Review, DTLR should make an estimate of the cost of remedying the backlog of repairs on the road network.

  Under the Best Value regime, local authorities will be required to provide an annual assessment of their maintenance requirements. In order to help the industry to understand what needs to be done and to ensure consistent monitoring of progress towards meeting targets, we hope the Sub-Committee will try to ensure that the proposed local authority annual assessment of maintenance requirements is consistent with measures used in the current National Road Maintenance Condition Survey, and provides a basis for monitoring targets set in the 10-Year Transport Plan.


  Too many plans for improving the transport infrastructure of this country have never come to fruition and we are keen to ensure, as we also believe is the Sub-Committee, that the targets set are actually met. Manufacturers and suppliers of the products needed to implement the 10 Year Plan are confident that they will be able to supply all that is required, although the Sub-Committee may well want to ensure DTLR has taken account of the significant cost increases for certain infrastructure work following the introduction in April this year of the Aggregates Tax.

  The overall level of private sector construction in this country is expected to level off in the next two to three years as the economy slows down. We therefore believe that this is an ideal time for the Government to be making this additional investment, but we are concerned about two issues in particular.


  The recent Green Paper on the Planning System acknowledged the inadequacy of the current system. Irrespective of the appropriateness of the changes the Government is proposing, it will be some time before the necessary legislation can bring these into effect, including the proposals for major infrastructure projects. We have serious concerns that the existing system will be able to deliver planning permission for all the schemes proposed as a basis for meeting the target to reduce congestion on the roads within the period of the 10 Year Plan.

Delivery Mechanisms

  We are also concerned that the agencies responsible for delivering these proposals—primarily the Highways Agency and local authorities—have the resources to manage the implementation of these schemes, both road improvement and repair and maintenance. It is essential that the right level of expertise is available to these agencies to ensure delivery of the programme on time, and in order to ensure "best value" for the money that the Government is investing. Where necessary, private sector expertise should be brought in to assist in the development and management of the programmes.


  The Association is aware of press speculation that even at this early stage the Government may revise the 10 Year Plan to focus more resources on the problems of the railways at the expense of plans on the road network. We would strongly oppose such a move, not because we doubt the seriousness of the problem on the rail network and the importance of resolving these, but because it would undermine the confidence of the industry in investing in what is needed to deliver the road improvement programme.

  Too many programmes for the road infrastructure in the past have not materialised because governments have changed their mind before the plans have ever got off the ground. The industry would see delays at this early stage in the programme as an indication that there is no greater commitment by the Government to this 10 Year Plan than the various plans of its predecessors.

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