The budget for maintaining roads, cycleways and footways across South Gloucestershire looks set to be slashed by up to £1m per annum for the next eight years in order to pay for the projected overspend on MetroBus, the Journal can reveal.
As previously reported, construction costs for the £102m North Fringe to Hengrove Package MetroBus route (the one which passes through Bradley Stoke) are forecast to be more than £11m over budget when it is completed later this year.
The original £102m budget for the scheme was made up of contributions from the government (£51.1m), Bristol City Council (£20.5m) and South Gloucestershire Council (£30.5m). However, because of the way the funding is arranged, with the government contribution being fixed and South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) committed to covering 61 percent of the remainder, SGC’s increased liability as a result of the projected overspend comes in at more than £7m, representing a massive 23 percent increase on the authority’s original budget.
The discovery of uncharted gas and water mains in Bradley Stoke is one of a number of factors being blamed for the increased costs. Protester action at the Stapleton allotments site, where a new bus-only junction on the M32 has been constructed, is another, along with “additional design, planning and contract management costs”.
As a short-term measure, SGC’s Policy & Resources Committee approved, in July 2016, the use of temporary funding to cover the overspend share of £5.259m projected at that time. However, by the time the council came to set its capital budget for 2017/18, the overspend share had risen to £7m and the council’s Environment and Community Services (ECS) Committee was tasked with coming up with a plan to fund it, either by diverting resources from other projects or taking on ‘prudential borrowing’ (i.e. a loan) that would need to be serviced over a number years.
Committee members were informed that the use of prudential borrowing would require a total amount of £9.9m (£7m plus £2.9m interest) to be repaid over a 20 year period, meaning that annual savings of £0.5m would need to be found from the ECS revenue budget.
However, departmental officials put forward an alternative plan to cover the shortfall by diverting money from a £2m per annum council-funded stream allocated to highway maintenance which supplements the baseline Department of Transport grants provided for this purpose. This stream was introduced in 2010 after the council “identified the need to increase investment in the road network to reduce the rate of deterioration and avoid future higher maintenance costs in the immediate future and exponentially escalating costs in future years”.
Minutes of the ECS Committee meeting held on 29th March confirm that members made a firm commitment to divert £0.75m of road maintenance funding in 2017/18, with an indicative agreement to continue this at the rate of £1m per annum for six years from 2018/19 followed by a final tranche of £0.25m in 2014/25.
The decision was made despite the council’s senior environmental policy officer warning that the proposed reduction in highways maintenance funding would be “likely to result in deterioration in the condition of the highways assets including footways and cycleways”. He also warned that “poor condition foot and cycleways may discourage those considering a modal shift towards walking and cycling.”
More information: Report to the ECS Committee, 29th March 2017 (SGC)
Photo: Temporary water pipes on Bradley Stoke Way, installed during work to divert an “uncharted” water main in April 2016.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on page 23). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
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