Monday, March 19, 2012

Freight Group Says Cameron's Proposals Will Anger Road Haulage Industry

More Private Toll Roads 'Unthinkable'
Shipping News Feature

UK – Today’s announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron has met with instant opposition from the freight industry with Road Haulage Association (RHA) Chief Executive Geoff Dunning describing the proposal to introduce road tolls unthinkable. The PM claims lack of investment in highway infrastructure is costing British industry £7 billion a year and suggested pension and sovereign wealth funds as a likely source of investment. Mr Cameron asked:

"Why is it that other infrastructure for example, water is funded by private sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated utilities, but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding? We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network… move passengers and heavy goods onto rail. But also widen pinch points, add lanes to motorways by using the hard shoulder to increase capacity and dual overcrowded A-roads."

Opposition reaction to the proposals was instant with shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle immediately retorting that the Government was planning to give away the strategic road network to private interests who could then charge drivers for access to roads as opposed to controlling infrastructure and regeneration using VAT and other methods.

Mr Cameron’s view was simply that there was nothing left in the public purse for road development saying the UK was falling behind in terms of road infrastructure and saying "frankly, there isn't enough money". It seems from very early analysis of the comments that the desire is to pass a percentage of vehicle licence income over as subsidy to whoever is managing a road and leaving them to introduce tolls to cover any shortfall. Given the enormous amounts handed to train companies under the previous administration which continues today in the form of subsidies whilst fares soar the new announcement is likely to be greeted less than enthusiastically by many.

Hints from government insiders seem to indicate the scheme will only apply to new developments but critics are already pointing out that many schemes which need to be implemented are for extra lanes on existing roads. Already the non rail freight carriers are making their views plain with Mr Denning saying:

“While we welcome the acknowledgement that the UK road transport infrastructure needs to see major investment, we consider the proposal of introducing tolls on new roads to be quite unthinkable. We have an economy and a workforce that is desperately trying to recover from several years of extreme hardship. To hear that there are proposals on the table to take yet more money out of the pockets of motorists and hauliers is ludicrous and would do no more than put the economy back on its knees.

“Over £48 billion was collected from road users in 2010/11; fuel duty alone at £26 billion accounted for over half of that figure. Yet despite the amount raised, just short of £10 billion was used to improve and maintain the current network. With fuel prices at an all-time high and fuel duty levels causing genuine hardship for motorists and hauliers alike, this is not the time to even consider asking for more money; it is the time for road users to finally see a return on their investment.

“Unless we see the issue of fuel prices and fuel duty addressed as a matter of extreme urgency, the chances of traffic levels returning to the levels that reflect economic growth will be slim”.

With the Governments own estimates indicating that we shall witness a 40% increase in congestion in the next two decades infrastructure improvements are seemingly essential so with economic conditions as they are many will fear that the private investment route, whilst getting the country off the hook financially, may impact devastatingly on those to whom road use is not optional with a consequent increase in the price of goods across the board.