£50m bid to improve Northumberland’s roads and bridges

Forestry is a key growth industry for Northumberland, but the associated traffic can cause damage to small rural roads.
Forestry is a key growth industry for Northumberland, but the associated traffic can cause damage to small rural roads.

Northumberland County Council has launched an ambitious £50million bid to improve the county’s road network.

The council has applied to the government’s Local Highway Maintenance Challenge Fund to improve the county’s more remote road network and repair more than 130 bridges.

The aim of the fund, which was announced in the Government’s Autumn Statement, is to enable local highway authorities to bid for major maintenance projects that are otherwise difficult to fund. Around £275million is available over the next three years.

The bids fall into two categories – ‘small’ schemes requiring Department for Transport (DfT) funding of between £5million and £20million and ‘large’ schemes costing more than £20million. The council has one bid in each category.

Northumberland has seen particularly severe weather over the past few years including the major floods of September 2008, followed by the coldest and wettest years on record. This has resulted in an increased rate of deterioration for our roads and bridges, with the most critical areas being the rural network.

For the large scheme, the council has put in a £43million bid to improve 160km of its rural road network in the north and west of the county over the next three years. In many cases, these roads have limited alternative diversion routes, increasing the importance of preventing their failure - should these roads ever be closed the average diversion route required is 30km.

Due to its largely rural make-up, Northumberland has a higher than average proportion of minor roads which play a vital role in connecting communities and industries based in remote areas. Forestry is also an important element of Northumberland’s economy and is identified in the council’s economic strategy as one of the niche sectors for growth. As a result ,the number of HGVs using these rural roads in connection with quarries and timber forests has been increasing in recent years.

The enhanced maintenance programme would also benefit tourism by improving facilities for walking and cycling and adding passing places on narrow rural roads.

For its smaller scheme, the council has submitted a £6.7million bid to repair 130 masonry arch bridges across the county. Northumberland has a higher than average proportion of masonry arch bridges with an average age of over 170 years. The work would prevent water damage, which would significantly improve the condition of the bridges and safeguard their long-term future. Taking action now is estimated to save over £60million compared to long-term reconstruction costs.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, policy board member for streetcare and environment, said: “These are ambitious proposals which would benefit residents and businesses in some of the more remote areas of our county. We have a massive road network in our county to maintain, over 5,000kms, and we have to explore every opportunity to secure funding to keep them in a good condition.

“These minor roads are increasingly being used by the mining and timber industry as well as providing vital links for isolated communities and routes for tourists. If this bid was successful it will allow us to target some key sections of road in the north and west of the county over the coming years.

“Similarly, bridges form a vital part of our infrastructure and by investing in some early intervention work we can save more expensive problems in the future.”

CounScott Dickinson, business chairman of the county council, added: “These projects provide a great opportunity for an economic boost – not just to the north and west of our county – but the wider region. I’m calling on our local MPs to show their support for these proposals which, if successful, will have a positive impact well into the future.”

If successful, more than £42million would be secured through national funding with the authority contributing around £7.6million towards the proposals.