Rural roads in Devon and Cornwall under threat as repair bills mount, councils admit
Thousands of miles of rural routes in the Westcountry could be on the road to ruin after cash strapped councils admitted they simply cannot afford spiralling repair bills.
In Cornwall, the council says it may be forced to “manage a maintenance retreat” from their rural road network - a move which could have dire economic consequences.
Meanwhile in Devon, councillors today issued an impassioned plea to Prime Minister David Cameron to come and see for himself the parlous state of the county’s roads where the maintenance backlog is £750million.
Both counties have warned that keeping rural roads up to scratch may be a luxury they cannot afford.
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Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council’s cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said the prospects were grim.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said.
“If we do not get the funding we are going to see the whole network fall apart.
“There has been under investment for years and the backlog now is worse than ever.”
He warned that difficult decisions were on the agenda.
“We have got an ongoing shortage of funding and a backlog of repairs amounting to £750million,” he said.
“We need to start talking with communities to see if some sections of road can be abandoned or downgraded.
“If we can agree some reduction with communities it will enable us to make current funding go further.”
Bert Biscoe, cabinet member of transport and waste at Cornwall Council said that tough choices had to be made about rural roads.
He warned that the long term effects of failure to maintain them could be make or break for some communities and businesses.
“In Cornwall we find many productive and value-adding businesses and vibrant communities all lie at the end of minor rural roads,” he said.
“We are moving towards being forced to manage a maintenance retreat from our unclassified rural road network.
“The impact of this both now and in the future will be pressure on community life and a loss of economic productivity.
“Starving us of funds now is storing up the rural deprivation of the future.”
In Cornwall, the road repair backlog bill amounts to an unaffordable £204million - a sum which has gone up £2million due to damage caused by the storms in December and January.
Mr Biscoe admitted he was “very concerned” that with £24 million worth of cuts on the cards on top of £19 million of cuts already made, maintaining the road network may be unsustainable.
“We regularly inspect the road network and address defects as soon as we can however, with a substantial cut in local government funding, there is significant pressure on our budget.
“This has not been helped by the weather conditions which have accelerated the rate of damage to roads.”
The are nearly 8,000 miles of roads in Devon - more than in the whole of Belgium - and it is estimated that £64million would be needed annually to maintain the network in its current condition.
However, this year the Government has allocated just £35million to the sector for the next year.
Bringing the entire network up to standard would cost £750million - which has risen from £687million in just one year mainly due to the extreme weather.
The sums did not add up, said Mr Hughes, which is why he has invited Mr Cameron to visit the county.
In his letter he says: “Continued Central Government cuts in funding for highway maintenance are a major long-standing problem in Devon.
“The previous Government pursued a policy that unfairly favoured urban areas and we have never recovered from that. We are unable to stop the continued deterioration of the highway network and we see a massive backlog building up for the future.”
Transport Minister Robert Goodwill rejected the idea that Government was starving local authorities of money for road repairs.
He told the Western Morning News: “This Government is investing more than £6 billion in this parliament and £12 billion in the next on road maintenance – enough to resurface 80% of the national road network and fill 19 million potholes a year on local roads.”
He added that the department was making sure “everything that can be done is being done to help those affected by the recent bad weather.”
He said the Government was providing roughly £976million per year for local highways maintenance funding to be distributed to local councils in England.