Councils to get access to National Roads Fund for local A-road improvements

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English councils will be given access to a multi-billion pound fund for local road improvements under plans unveiled by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

The scheme involves creating a Major Road Network to allow local authorities to take a share of the vehicle excise duty-funded National Roads Fund (NRF).

It was previously envisaged that the NRF would be ring-fenced for motorways and major A-roads.

Motoring groups welcomed the announcement, saying many communities are "crying out" for urgent road investment.

The plan will help councils enhance or replace the most important A-roads under their management, the Department for Transport (DfT) said.

Vehicle excise duty reached £5.8 billion in 2016/17.

Last year's study by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund highlighted the "great gulf" in funding and planning of national and local roads.

Mr Grayling said: "Getting transport spending right is crucial for the country's future.

"The Transport Investment Strategy sets out a blueprint for how we can harness the power of transport investment to drive balanced economic growth, unlock new housing projects, and support the Government's modern industrial strategy.

"This Government is taking the big transport decisions for Britain's future like HS2 and Heathrow, while delivering the biggest investment in roads and rail for a generation.

"At the heart of our approach is a plan to make transport work for the people who use it and for the wider economy."

Under the strategy, road improvement programmes will be judged on how they contribute to creating a more geographically balanced economy, increase productivity or growth and tackle congestion.

The DfT pledged to support every part of the country and in some cases give priority to smaller schemes that are "proven solutions" so passengers and drivers get the benefits quicker.

AA president Edmund King said: "Many communities are crying out for their local bypass to be built to enhance their local environment and quality of life.

"Local authority A-roads have become the poor relation or country cousins in comparison to the amounts spent on motorways and the strategic road network.

"It is imperative that the status and spending on the most important of these roads is elevated."

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said the DfT's plan recognises that many of the most important roads connecting towns and cities are "the responsibility of cash-strapped local councils".

He went on: "Drivers have long felt that too many of the billions they pay in motoring taxes each year get siphoned away to other deserving causes.

"Today's announcement is a big step on the way to winning back their trust."

A public consultation into the definition of the Major Road Network will be opened later this year and the strategy could be implemented in 2020.

Local Government Association transport spokesman Martin Tett said: "Councils have long called for a better balance of investment between local and national infrastructure.

"It's great to see the Government adopt this approach, which recognises our roads form one big network."

He added: "The devil will be in the detail but this is a refreshing approach from the Government."