Bracknell Forest Liberal Democrat Councillors Patrick Smith and Sophie Forster for Swinley Forest Ward, in collaboration with Bracknell Forest Labour Group members including Cllr Guy Gillbe (Executive Member for Planning and Transport), have led on an open letter to James Sunderland MP, calling on him to work with Treasury colleagues in central government to restore DfT highways maintenance grants, in real terms, to historical levels.
Explaining the rationale behind the letter Cllr Smith comments:
“If there’s one issue I can guarantee every councillor in the borough is hearing about from our residents, it’s potholes and the appalling state of our roads.
Every year residents are being asked to pay more and more in council tax, and then they drive around our streets and wonder where on earth that money is going. What most residents don’t realise is that, historically, highways repairs were never funded by council tax revenues but by grants from central government – notably, the Department for Transport Highway Maintenance Grant.
DfT funding has been static for a number of years, whilst inflationary pressures have dramatically driven up maintenance costs. In real terms, this means that funding is falling and the money provided is quite simply not enough for councils up and down the country to keep pace with the natural rate of decay on our road networks. This is not an issue unique to Bracknell Forest, indeed our statistics are quite typical.
In recent years Bracknell Forest Council has been topping up the DfT funding with our own discretionary funds, but it’s still not enough. With council budgets stretched like never before, finding the further funds we need to get back on top of the state of our roads is a mighty challenge. Unlike central government, local councils are legally required to run a balanced budget and have limited revenue raising powers. Without central government stepping in to address this ever increasing shortfall, our residents will be living with the blight of potholes and failing road surfaces for years to come.”
The letter has received broad cross-party support with twenty three signatories including Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green Party members from borough, town and parish councils across Bracknell Forest. Members of all party groups were invited to participate.
The full text of the letter is reproduced below:
Dear Mr Sunderland,
Many residential roads across Bracknell Forest are in an appalling state of repair, falling far short of the standards residents and local businesses should reasonably be able to expect.
In a response to a recent question at the Bracknell Forest Council meeting in September of this year, the Executive Member for Highways and Transport revealed that a shocking 11% of our roads are now overdue for resurfacing. The reason given for this was due to chronic underfunding by central government.
The DfT Highways Maintenance Grant for Bracknell Forest has been static for the last five years, whilst highways maintenance works have faced significant inflationary pressures, with some elements of highways maintenance increasing in cost to the Council by upwards of 30-35% in the last two years alone.
Where Councils were historically able to rely upon grant funding to cover the majority of highways maintenance costs, many are now having to top this up with additional discretionary funding. In the 2023-24 budget Bracknell Forest Council allocated £1.2m of its own revenue funds towards highways maintenance in addition to funding from the DfT, accounting for approximately a third of the borough’s total highways maintenance budget. In spite of this, there remains a significant shortfall in the funding needed to keep pace with the rate of decay across our road network. With Council budgets already stretched to breaking point, this funding can only come from central government.
As elected representatives of Bracknell Forest communities at Borough, Town and Parish Council level we are writing to ask for your urgent intervention to secure additional highways maintenance funding and restore the DfT grants to local authorities in real terms to historical levels.
Cllr Patrick Smith (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Sophie Forster (Bracknell Forest Council, Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Guy Gillbe (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Michael Forster (Bracknell Forest Council, Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Christoph Eberle (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Tina Eberle (Bracknell Forest Council, Crowthorne Parish Council)
Cllr Philip Thompson (Bracknell Forest Council, Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Nazar Zahuruddin (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Ben Hutchinson (Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Chris Ives (Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Leigh Quigg (Sandhurst Town Council)
Cllr Jenny Penfold (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Caroline Egglestone (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Michael Karim (Bracknell Forest Council, Winkfield Parish Council)
Cllr Janet Cochrane (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Mary Temperton (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Roy Bailey (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Jodie Watts (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Tricia Brown (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Megan Wright (Bracknell Forest Council, Bracknell Town Council)
Cllr Sheila Collings (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Adrian Haffegee (Bracknell Forest Council)
Cllr Donna Sidebotham (Bracknell Town Council)