UK Prime Minister considers private control of highways image

The British government is considering a part-privatization of the national road network as part of its strategy to address the “decades-long degradation” of the country’s infrastructure.

David Cameron say tolls for new roads are one option, alongside attracting more money from pension funds and other investors.

“Road tolling is one option – but we are only considering this for new, not existing, capacity. For example, we’re looking at how improvements to the A14 could be part-funded through tolling.”

Under the new plans, investors would bid to own highways over a long lease period, which would then be privately maintained thanks to yearly government funding; this extra cash injection could come from inflated road tax costs.

The Highways Agency, which is currently in charge of major roads, has an annual budget of £3bn – about half of what the Treasury earns from road tax.

Britain has one privately-built and operated toll motorway near Birmingham in central England, and there are plans for similar new projects. But Cameron will say the government needs to go much further.

“We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network – from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and other investors,” he will say.

Motoring group AA warned that the proposals could be “the thin end of the wedge”, opening the way for surge in tolling.

Under previous conservative governments, Britain put the rail system and the water and sewage utilities in private hands.