Safety fears as roads budget cut
CONCERN has been voiced about huge cuts to Suffolk's road maintenance budget - as the county council admitted repairs are now being made to a "lesser standard".
CONCERN has been voiced about huge cuts to Suffolk's road maintenance budget - as the county council admitted repairs are now being made to a “lesser standard.”
A report to go before the council's roads and transport scrutiny committee this week reveals that the authority is bidding to save £735,000 on the budget in the current financial year.
It admits the cuts have been targeted at rural roads, and that repairs to potholes and edge defects are taking longer to carry out.
The report also warns that the approach “can only be sustained for a short period” as the roads will ultimately deteriorate faster.
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But last night, while concern was raised at the council's plans, strong criticism was also aimed at the Government's funding of transport in Suffolk.
The news comes as the county has endured a spate of fatal crashes over the last couple of weeks - 34 people have been killed on Suffolk's roads so far this year - and Suffolk Police Authority have launched an investigation into the issue.
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David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “The resources for Suffolk roads have been decimated over the last five years because London ministers frankly aren't interested in rural road safety and it's deeply regrettable that this vicious squeeze on funding has been imposed on county hall.”
Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural charity Suffolk Acre, also spoke of his concern about the county's transport funding from central Government.
He added: “Anything that might encourage less than helpful behaviour by road users is not welcome at all.
“If you have a pothole that you have to swerve around suddenly then you're more likely to have an accident - if those potholes are not repaired as quickly, then obviously it's more dangerous.”
And a spokeswoman for safety campaigners Roadpeace warned: “The council should be looking to improve the road infrastructure and not cutting the budget on Suffolk roads.
“Rural road maintenance should not be cut, as these roads will deteriorate much faster and we know that more people are killed on rural roads than other roads.
“Cutting back on road maintenance really means cutting back on road safety, which will endanger lives.”
A spokesman for the county council said: “The county council will save £735,000 from its structural maintenance budget for roads in 2006-7.
“This was required because of a poor grant settlement from Government. The Roads and Transport Scrutiny committee will consider the progress of the implementation of these budget savings at it meeting on October 5.”
Responding to the criticism, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokeswoman said: “Suffolk's highways capital maintenance funding from the DfT has increased from over £15 million last year, to over £16m this year. This represents an increase of nearly 5%.
“The department allocates highways capital maintenance funding on the same basis across all local authorities, based on a combination of factors including road length and condition, population and bus patronage.
“However, local authorities can choose how to allocate this money, based on local priorities.”
According to the scrutiny committee report the reduced budget “has been allocated and is being worked to.” Details include:-
n The cuts have been targeted at the unclassified road network, particularly in rural areas where traffic flows are lower.
n Immediate effect is that pothole repairs and the repairs of edge defects are taking longer to carry out.
n In order to maintain roads in a safe condition, some repairs are being carried out to a lesser standard in order to make the budget go further.
n Approach can only be sustained for a short period as these repairs will have a reduced life and ultimately the roads will deteriorate faster.
n The surface dressing programme on unclassified roads has been reduced which means that a lack of preventative maintenance will also contribute in time to accelerated deterioration in the road network.