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Transport funding short changes North-East
EMBATTLED North-East construction and engineering firms have accused the government of short changing the region and putting jobs at risk.
Hopes of a better deal for infrastructure have plummeted despite the promise of more public works that Chancellor George Osborne made in his Autumn Budget Statement.
Latest funding allocations by the Department for Transport, in support of highways maintenance, show the North-East region will get only £11.8m out of £215m for England as a whole - a share that has angered the region's building trade and fuelled fears of a widening North-South divide.
Last year the government came under fire amid concerns that transport spending was skewed towards London. The Institute for Public Policy Research North said £2,700 was being spent per person in London compared with £5 per head in the North-East.
Peter Samuel, construction director at major North-East contractor Owen Pugh, was dismayed by the latest payout. “The support being offered for road upkeep here is paltry," he said. "There is no reasonable explanation why the North-East figure is approximately half that of the next lowest areas. London and the South-East are to receive over 21 per cent of the total, and the South-West, whose needs I would have thought similar to the North-East’s, is to receive more than three times as much at £36.4m.”
The Civil Engineering Contractors’ Association (CECA), which speaks for many North-East firms, lobbied the DfT for a national allocation of £333m - to run until 2015.
Douglas Kell, director of CECA in this region, said: “The North East certainly hasn’t been allotted a fair share. Yet this region’s construction and civil engineering industry has been harder hit than anywhere else in the country since the onset of the nation’s financial crisis.”
The road funding in support of local authority programmes helps companies to stay busy and sustain jobs between bigger projects. While some major developments have been announced for the North-East’s infrastructure, the industry fears they are moving painfully slowly.
Mr Kell added: “Cursory coverage of North-East requirements is not new. Chancellor Osborne’s previous Autumn Statement in 2011 made known that, out of £5bn for the entire country proposed then, a mere £1.2m contribution would come to the North-East. The North-West by comparison had £1bn worth of projects approved.
"While some big projects have been approved for the North-East their starts are months and even years away, with little other public work in prospect to fill the vacuum."
A year ago an investment of £147.7m - £103.7m of that from the Government - was confirmed for a northern bypass at Morpeth and a new road bridge in Sunderland city centre.
But site work on the bypass is not expected before January 2015 for a completion in August 2016, a spokesman for Northumberland County Council confirmed. Only now is the search for a contractor on.
Sunderland’s 180m high bridge over the Wear, which will be England’s tallest, is expected to have a main contractor announced in May for a September start to actual site work and eventual completion in 2016.
In his last Autumn Statement Mr Osborne announced upgrade of a 12 mile stretch of the A1 in North Yorkshire to three lane motorway, and a £64m relief scheme for the A1 Western Bypass at Gateshead which has often carried traffic at three times maximum capacity, making it the third most congested stretch of major road in the country. But this is only at a planning stage and a Highways Agency spokesman has confirmed work is not expected to start there until 2014/15 in readiness for an opening some time in 2016.
An earlier delayed junction improvement at Silverlink, North Tyneside - giving better access to the A1058 Coast Road to Whitley Bay, Tynemouth and North Shields from the A19, cutting the 50 per cent higher than national average rate of accidents there, and further improving traffic flows from the recently enlarged Tyne Tunnel - now has go-ahead. But the Highways Agency does not see work on that starting before 2016.
Mr Kell says: “Clearly many months, years even, will pass before big jobs announced for the North-East have all got under way, and if you link this fact with Network Rail’s recent decision also to spend only a tiny fraction of £37.5bn over five years on railways within the North-East, an even bleaker prospect looms.
“The speed at which the entire North-East economy can benefit from infrastructure work depends on when money is actually allocated and projects can start. Obviously firms in the region need a lot of smaller scale investment within the next few months to tide them over and keep people in jobs.
“The Government has reportedly set aside an additional £5bn investment to assist badly needed ‘shovel ready’ infrastructure development across the UK, particularly outside the South-East. Perhaps some of this could be spread between Tweed and Tees in redress of the imbalance now evident,” Mr Kell added.
Highways maintenance funding 2013 to 2015
South West £36.46m;
East of England £27.5m;
East Midlands £22.4m;
West Midlands £22.07m;
Yorks & Humber £20.8m;