Issues and questions came up in a Government hearing yesterday (1st Feb 2023). The Transport Select Committee held their first oral evidence sessions as part of their inquiry into the Strategic Road Investment.
The Transport Committee is nominated by the House of Commons to scrutinise the Department for Transport. Its formal remit is to hold Ministers and Departments to account, and to investigate matters of public concern where there is a need for accountability to the public through Parliament.
The Strategic Road Investment inquiry opened on 20th Dec and the deadline for evidence to be submitted is 6th Feb 2023. TCAG are preparing our own written representation for the Inquiry which we will share once it has been submitted.
Giving evidence at the first oral evidence session for the inquiry were National Highways Chief Executive – Nick Harris, Permanent Secretary at Department for Transport – Dame Bernadette Kelly DCB, and Director General for Roads, Places and Environment Group at Department for Transport – Emma Ward.
The proposed LTC was mentioned quite a bit in the hearing. Members of the committee questioned the panel giving evidence on a variety of topics and issues, including costs, value for money, safety (‘smart’ motorways), deliverability, levelling up, air quality, biodiversity and environmental issues, delays and legal challenges.
What was clear from what was said is that moving forward there are big decisions to be made on what will and won’t be able to go ahead, because of delays, legal challenges, and inflation rising.
Dame Bernadette Kelly explained that Ministers will make decisions based on strategic case, and objectives, things like levelling up, carbon, deliverability.
Committee member Ben Bradshaw MP said that given what they had been told it sounds as if the A303 Stonehenge and Lower Thames Crossing are just not going to happen, they’re impossible. See that section in the video below!
Dame Bernadette Kelly did stress that decision would be made by Ministers.
It was also mentioned that the Spring Budget will be significant.
TCAG have made representation to Treasury regarding the Spring Budget 2023. As we have reported previously we have serious concerns about Ministers being misled, particularly by the LTC Accounting Officer Assessment, which was finally published after a long delay in Jan 2023. This concern made even more relevant when you consider that Dame Bernadette Kelly and Nick Harris are the two Accounting Officers who signed off the LTC assessment. Dame Bernadette even commented on their responsibility as Accounting Officers and how significant the assessments were in regard to these large projects.
Carbon and environmental issues also featured in both the hearing, and the LTC Accounting Officer Assessment, and TCAG and an industry journalist have questioned National Highways and Balfour Beatty (who were recently awarded one of the LTC contracts, subject to permission being granted) on how they will further slash carbon emissions, only for them to back away from their bold claims about slashing LTC carbon emissions.
The hearing covered analysis and questions about the Road Investment Strategy from the first RIS1 period between 2015-2020, the current RIS2 between 2020-2025, and plans for RIS3 2025-2030. Consultation for the proposed LTC began life in the first RIS1 period, then moved into RIS2, and now also falls largely within the RIS3 timeframe.
In the Autumn Budget 2022 Government detailed that whilst transport funding would not be reduced, it would not be increased in line with inflation. This now means that projects in RIS3 will need to be reviewed and decision made as to what will be cut or pushed back. As well as LTC being pushed into RIS3, the Tilbury Link Road is also a RIS3 pipeline project. Remembering that the Port of Tilbury said they would only support LTC if they got their own access/junction. As we have said before to not include the Tilbury Link Road in the LTC project cost is yet another false economy. At a time when the financial and environmental cost are so critical it is becoming more and more obvious that the way forward must be to scrap the proposed LTC. There are better, more sustainable ways to invest what public money is available.
All in all the hearing was an interesting watch, and covered the kinds of things that Ministers will be considering when making their decisions about the Strategic Road Investment moving forward. We know there is evidence on all those aspects and more that show that the proposed LTC should not go ahead. We will be submitting our own written evidence very soon.
New Civil Engineer – Transport bosses admit budget for new roads projects is ‘very limited’ due to major overruns (Feb 2023) – click here