£5m plea to head off roads ‘crisis’ as race looms
EMERGENCY funding running into millions of pounds is being sought to tackle a roads crisis in Yorkshire before the global spotlight falls on the region with the staging of the Tour de France’s Grand Départ this summer.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has been urged to intervene to help reverse a £322m backlog of maintenance on North Yorkshire’s highways.
The request from North Yorkshire County Council’s leader, John Weighell, comes less than five months before the region welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to watch the world’s biggest annual sporting event.
In a letter to Mr McLoughlin, Coun Weighell says the issue “is rapidly becoming a crisis”.
He added: “Insufficient funding for highway maintenance is not a problem unique to North Yorkshire, but I believe we feel the pain particularly badly.
“North Yorkshire is the biggest local authority in England by area and has the third largest road network. The topography of North Yorkshire means we are vulnerable to extreme weather.
“Our dispersed population and our rural economy make our minor roads particularly important. Added to this, the cars, HGVs and agricultural vehicles are getting heavier and larger and this has increased their impact on the condition of these minor roads.”
A council analysis suggests that even if the backlog of repairs was removed North Yorkshire would need £60m a year to keep on top of road maintenance – more than double what it currently receives.
Coun Weighell’s letter continues: “Of course we are not just throwing money at the problem. New and improved systems allow better management and ensure we get the best possible value for money. This has allowed us to arrest the deterioration of our most heavily used roads. However, this has been at the expense of our minor roads.”
Yorkshire will host the first two stages of this year’s Tour with large sections of the route on both days taking the peloton through North Yorkshire. The race will set off from Leeds to Harrogate via the Yorkshire Dales on July 5, before starting in York and finishing in Sheffield the following day.
Coun Weighell said repairs to prepare the Tour route had not significantly added to the county’s bill but had seen spending shifted away from other roads.
“There is an impact from the Tour de France on the budget of North Yorkshire but that is about more than the roads and of course we have duty to look after the economic well-being of the county which the Tour de France will contribute to for years to come.”
The Transport Secretary is being asked to match an additional £5m that the county council is planning to put into road maintenance in the coming year.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The Secretary of State has received the letter from the leader of North Yorkshire County Council and will consider the points raised. The Department for Transport is providing the council with over £104m in funding for local highways maintenance between 2011 to 2015, which includes over £11m in additional funding we have announced to assist with maintenance of the local road network.”
The appeal over roads is the latest example of an increasing willingness by the Tory-run county council to publicly confront Ministers over funding shortfalls.
The authority has already said the money on offer from the Government in return for freezing council tax bills is not enough to meet the financial challenges it faces and this year it will put up council tax for the first time since 2011. Coun Weighell is due to meet the Transport Secretary later this month. [email protected]