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Welsh roads ‘suffering from annual funding settlements’

ROADS

RHodri Clark
06 July 2018
Roadworks on the A55 Expressway near Abergele last winter
Roadworks on the A55 Expressway near Abergele last winter

 

The Welsh Government’s annual funding and work allocations are creating inefficiencies in the maintenance of the Government’s own roads, according to the local authorities who undertake the task. They also say traffic congestion is exacerbated by the roadworks “spike” in the last months of the financial year.

Two regional agents, consisting of local authorities, look after the Government’s 1,050 miles of trunk roads, including the Welsh section of the M4. This enables councils to combine works on their own roads and trunk roads, for example with gritting routes taking in both types of road to minimise dead mileage. 

The Government’s annual funding allocation is variable and the notification of funding and work programmes is delayed until April or May each year, the South Wales Trunk Road Agent (SWTRA) told a National Assembly for Wales inquiry this week.

Richard Jones, SWTRA’s head of service, told the inquiry: “The level of funding provided at the start of each year, particularly in relation to capital, is variable and can change year on year. The late notification of budgets and work programmes can put pressure on the delivery profile of the agent and its supply chain, with the first quarter of the year effectively lost from a delivery perspective.

“Work programmes are inevitably profiled towards the last two quarters of the financial year, providing a year-end spike in planned works, with works also at risk of adverse weather.”

His counterpart at the North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent (NMWTRA), David Cooil, said: “A significant proportion of funding is not received until quarters 3 and 4. This imposes significant pressure on both NMWTRA’s supply chain and the available road-space required to undertake a significant works programme.”

This led to a “pricing premium, with contractors being overstretched” and NMWTRA having to use its second or third-placed framework contractors (based on their costs) to gain the necessary capacity. “This leads to inefficiencies from a cost perspective and the pressure on road-space can lead to more significant traffic congestion. Implementing works in adverse climatic conditions can affect the durability and service life of assets, in particular surfacing.”

Jones also said the funding profile resulted in considerable surfacing work being undertaken in cold weather, invalidating guarantees from suppliers and applicators. 

“A five-year rolling programme would be beneficial in enabling better planning and allocation of resources and delivery of work in a phased manner,” he said. “If five-year budgets cannot be achieved, then early notification of the annual budget and programme would enable better planning and a more balanced delivery profile through the year.”

Cooil said five-year funding “linked to a more holistic approach to asset management has significant potential to improve efficiency in the delivery of maintenance and upgrade schemes, improve whole-life costs and reduce levels of traffic disruption”.

The Welsh Government advises the agents of “indicative funding” before each financial year. A spokesman declined to explain why the Government did not notify agents of the actual funding and work programmes until well into the financial year, or fund five-year programmes. He said: “Winter months can be a busier period, partly because additional funding for road improvements can become available towards the end of the financial year as investments across the Welsh Government are finalised.”

 
 
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