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Prospects for firms involved in the road building sector brightened dramatically earlier this month when transport secretary Chris Grayling unveiled the Government’s new ‘transport investment strategy’. It points to a significant expansion in the number of by-passes being built through the creation of a major road network with funding ring-fenced from the Vehicle Excise Duty. It could involve up to £1 billion a year being spent to cut congestion, as some 3,800 miles of A roads overseen by local authorities are upgraded. Even before the announcement, road spending was on the rise. Moves by Highways England to bring forward projects under its collaborative framework should mean increased investment in national roads over 2017 and 2018 and the Chancellor has pledged funds for schemes that can quickly be brought on site. At the end of June, the Government unveiled a £6.1 billion programme of road improvements and pledged to take the next steps on 55 schemes nationally. Projects will include a new £100m route on the A19 Downhill Lane jct in the North East; adding capacity to the A1 in Northumberland and the A12 at Colchester; a new strategic corridor to the south-west via the A303 and improvements to jct 19 of the M6. Glenigan’s latest mid-year forecast reflects the upturn in activity with the value of underlying new work project starts in the civil engineering sector predicted to rise by 9% to £6.059 billion this year and to £7.224 billion in 2018. The new transport plan will reinforce the upward trend and could have an early impact on workloads as well as improving the overall economic outlook. Under the scheme, a share of the annual National Road Fund, funded by the £5.8 billion raised each year by Vehicle Excise Duty, will be given to local authorities to improve or replace key A roads in their area. The new scheme aims to address the disparity between the funding and planning of motorways and for local authority A roads which was highlighted in the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund study last year. By restoring the link between Vehicle Excise Duty and spending on the road network, the new regime should mean investment in the sector will not only grow but should provide funding for a stable pipeline of projects in the future which will be less exposed to any future government cuts in capital spending. The new plan should particularly help civils contractors and materials and product suppliers in less affluent regions. It comes with pledges to invest in every part of the country and spread wealth beyond the South East and says cash will be targeted at projects that help ‘rebalance’ the economy. The plan aims to improve congestion by tackling bottlenecks and traffic jams as well as improving connections between towns and productivity. It should also be a spur to other forms of new development around the country and a stated aim is to unlock land for new homes and improve business links. The creation of a by-pass near a town or village often frees up land for commercial and housing development as firms and households seek to take advantage of improved access. By-passes and improved A roads are usually popular with local residents although environmental objections often create lengthy delays before work actually starts. Perhaps, recognising this, the new plan pledges support for fast-track smaller schemes that offer proven solutions for getting people around more quickly.

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