Proposal to double road maintenance budget this year with a £120m long-term infrastructure investment plan

Highways Investment V1

Proposals to double the highways maintenance budget this year and invest a further £120m in infrastructure including roads and schools over the next ten years will be considered by the council’s Cabinet next week (Tuesday 17 July).

If agreed, an extra £10m would be spent on road repairs and other highway maintenance work this year to tackle the winter backlog of potholes.

Cabinet members will also be asked to give ‘in principle’ agreement to borrowing for investment, and to approve the development of a full business case.

Approval of the business case would pave the way for a £120m investment programme to improve highways and other vital infrastructure such as schools for Oxfordshire over the next 10 years.

The business case would be considered in the autumn, so that if accepted the investment proposal could be included in next year’s budget and capital programme, which will be agreed by full council in February 2019. The proposed investment could include:

  • Delivering maintenance of highways and other assets such as school buildings
  • Match funding for bids for capital projects eg government funded
  • Funding infrastructure to unlock future revenue sooner
  • Contingencies for capital investment

Biggest ever council-funded investment

This would be the biggest ever council-funded investment in highways and infrastructure in Oxfordshire, and would address the long-term decline in road condition, which is happening across the country.

The county’s extensive network of rural minor roads suffered badly during the freeze-thaw cycle of last winter.

The investment would be funded through the additional Council Tax income that is projected because of population growth in Oxfordshire.

The proposed investment in current highways would be in addition to the planned £150m road network improvement that is being funded by the government through the ‘growth deal’ with all six Oxfordshire councils.

Tackling the concerns of road users

County Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:

“We know that road users are very concerned about the state of the roads in Oxfordshire and we have been looking at ways to tackle the problem, which everyone knows is getting worse.

“We think there could be an opportunity to utilise some of the council tax income generated from population growth to give a much-needed cash injection for our highways so they are able to meet the demands of the future.”

The £10m increase in the highway maintenance budget for the current financial year is made possible by bringing forward money that was due to be spent on capital investment in later years.

Highway engineers are now producing a programme of maintenance works to be delivered this year. The list of proposed maintenance projects will be published if the budget is approved by the Cabinet.

Possible concerns about the impact of borrowing £120m on council finances are addressed in the Cabinet paper, which states:

“As the borrowing will be taken over a number of years, based on individual business cases, the programme of investment can be stopped if the increased [Council Tax] revenue does not materialise. This will keep debt management costs at an affordable level within the medium term financial plan.”

The challenge on Oxfordshire’s roads

The road network managed by Oxfordshire County Council is almost 3,000 miles long and is made up of: A roads (15%); B roads (10%), and C or unclassified roads (75%).

The high proportion of C and unclassified roads, which are often not built to modern standards and in rural locations, makes highway maintenance in Oxfordshire a major challenge.

We have dealt with 23,809 potholes since January 2018. This is 64% up on last year and equates to fixing an average of 3,968 potholes a month. Pothole fixing peaked in March with 5,146 being repaired.

Investing an extra £10m would pay for 46 miles of surfacing (resurfacing, surface dressing, micro asphalt) and 52,000 sqm of patching and would be on top of the £16m already being spent by the county council (£8.5m of which is spent on carriageways and footway repairs). Reactive pothole repairs would continue as usual.