(03/04/18) By our branch blogger, Little Englander
It happened suddenly last Saturday night. I was on the M11 in the middle lane heading north just before the turn-off for Stansted and Bishop’s Stortford. It was about 9.30pm so it was dark and my headlights were dipped. I briefly saw a dark patch on the road as my front right wheel went over it. Crump! I cursed as my partner and I simultaneously realised that we had run into a huge pothole. Luckily the car continued to perform normally so we continued, not wanting to stop in the dark on a motorway, even on the hard shoulder.
Angered that such a hole that size could exist on a UK motorway we called the police on the non-emergency number. I told the operator that they had to get a Highways Agency team out asap and fix it. This could not only wreck a wheel but could cause an accident. Any motorcyclist that hit that at speed would highly likely be unseated.
Next morning, I checked the car. The rim of the alloy wheel had a substantial dent, although amazingly the seal had held and the tyre pressure was normal. I called the Highways Agency to check my report had been received.
Three days on and I’m hoping it has been fixed. But I’ve been reflecting on the incident and it has made me realise the terrible
condition of our roads. Few roads near where I live on the Suffolk/Cambs border don’t have potholes, and some are horrendously large. Drivers have to really be careful not to end up having to endure the inconvenience and cost of repairs (claiming for compensation is not a given). I wrote off my front left alloy wheel five years ago on hitting a pothole on a small lane.
The question begs – why do we let our roads get this bad? Their condition is akin to that of a Third World nation than that of a supposedly modern and developed country the UK purports to be. Of course we know the direct cause – the cold, icy weather has accelerated road surface deterioration. But why haven’t the Highways Agency (responsible for motorways and major A roads) and County Councils (responsible for the rest) been fixing them?
Decaying roads, decaying values
I suggest that the state of the nation’s roads is a metaphor not only for the decay of our country’s infrastructure, but the decay of our values and priorities. The councils and Highways Agency plead lack of cash to fix the holes promptly. That is true – austerity continues to bite. The fact is that we do
have the money, but decide to spend it in other areas. I have highlighted below three wasteful spending areas which show how the elite who run this country have different values and priorities from the rest of us.
Not only do we need to maintain our existing transport infrastructure, but we desperately need new roads and rail links to enhance it to make it fit for a 21st century First World economy. Congestion in our cities and traffic jams on our main roads and dual-carriageways put a terrible burden on our businesses by raising their costs and stymying growth. The Cambridge region is a good example. A major growth city for the UK providing billions of £ net for the Treasury’s coffers each year, we know the impact the lack of investment in infrastructure has on the city – some organisations who would like to locate or invest further here do not do so because of the poor infrastructure links to it and within it.
Existing organisations worry about maintaining performance, let alone improving it. Take the Cambridge Biomedical Campus in the south of the city which will be host 21,000 employees in 2019 as the new AstraZeneca and Papworth Hospital buildings finally open, and 30,000 workers by 2030
. Both organisations chose Cambridge as their new location because of the world-class excellence in life sciences of our university city. But their workers are going to have a torrid time commuting to the campus. The A1307 road from Haverhill into Cambridge that passes the campus has been a log-jam of cars in the morning for years. Ideas for addressing this have been produced
but nothing has been agreed yet. The new Cambridge South rail station planned for the campus that would instantly make it accessible to thousands of workers who currently have to come by car or bus is still in planning too. The Combined Authority Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, has very clearly explained why
– it’s the failure of Network Rail which is inefficient and lacks funding.
Then there's the continued farce of the A14 on which traffic is regularly stationery due to accidents and congestion, often the caused by articulated lorries. This is the main transport artery between the Midlands and the UK's busiest container port at Felixstowe. It MUST be turned into a six-lane highway on its whole length as it's the only way we'll stop the jams. Potholes notwithstanding, the M11 is only 4-lane for most of its length. That too experiences jams and hold-ups, often caused by lorries blocking the fast lane as they struggle to overtake slower lorries on the inside lane. Again, it should be turned into a normal 6-lane motorway.
Time to put the UK first
It is time for us to change our priorities and put more money into our transport infrastructure. This needs cash. There are three areas where money could be found very quickly. 1. Cut the foreign aid budget
This country has given over £13bn a year in foreign aid since the coalition government passed a law that obliges any sitting government to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid. Much of this is wasted but the main point is that we are putting other countries first above our own. Liberals masquerading as Tories argue that we are a global ‘soft power’ superpower because of our largesse. I argue that there is no such thing as ‘soft power’, only military and economic power. Noone in other countries respects the UK because we give them cash. That’s like a school kid giving sweets to other kids in the playground to win friends. It doesn’t work long-term and is costly.
The UK should be the priority for our money, not the many ‘shithole’ countries that are run by dictators who syphon off billions of their nations' money into their private bank accounts and yet take cash from the poor British taxpayer. The waste from our foreign aid is extraordinary too – only a small % of every £ spent actually reaches the needy, with much spent on salaries, consultants and wasteful flagship projects
. So I propose that we slash our aid budget to £2bn. £1bn for considered aid and £1bn for emergency aid. The remaining £11bn we could spend on OUR country. 2. The Brexit Dividend
I don't care what the Brexit deniers say but it is inevitable that we will benefit from a dividend on leaving the EU. It was of course one of the main reasons to leave - to stop paying £9bn net to the corrupt and out-of-control EU. And the Economists for Brexit group maintain that leaving the EU could add £135bn a year
to Britain's economy. But let's be conservative and agree we'll be just £9bn better off. With the saving from cutting foreign aid, that’s a potential £20bn per annum that we could invest in the UK – our NHS, our police, our military, our education system, our housing, and yes, our potholes and infrastructure. But the Tory government refuses to countenance this. The aid program is driven by their attempt to detoxify the Tory brand, to appeal to traditional non-Tory voters. 3. Cancel HS2
Finally, there is HS2. This white elephant is one beast I'd be happy to cull. The true cost will probably well exceed
the current 'official' cost of £55.7bn. The cancellation costs at this stage would be a few billion - but imagine the boost if we invested vast majority of the budget left in our existing rail and road networks? UKIP has been alone amongst other major parties in its opposition to HS2. The project is an immoral indulgence that will never deliver the value its proponents suggest and will destroy much of beautiful Britain.
We are broke as a nation – our national debt is £1.8 trillion which is over 87% of GDP! And whilst we now have a small budget surplus, billions are spent still servicing our national debt. Why are we giving money, much of which we have to borrow, to foreign countries to help them grow and develop – many of whom are direct competitors to us – when we so desperately need money for ourselves? That includes fixing our potholes. I have shown in this post a potential £70bn+ a year that could be better spent. Let's invest it in our infrastructure and reap the dividends. We would be a better, wealthier country if we put ourselves first.