I have asked people why the council hadn’t gone all out to fund a replacement bridge as soon as it realised Rhubarb Bridge was suffering an unusual degree of decay. This would have made sense, especially since there are national funding pots for sustainable travel infrastructure, and this bridge might well have qualified.
Since then I have I received one really useful reply. My interlocutor pointed out to me that the money for repairs and maintenance comes out of the Revenue pot at the council. Revenue is for running costs, costs which recur year after year. The money for the an surface roundabout or for a replacement bridge would come out of the Capital pot. Capital is for one off costs, for buying or building assets such as buildings and infrastructure.
This made me think. Pressure on the Revenue pot is extreme. And it might be this extreme funding pressure which is leading to a decision not to maintain. If it replaces an an annual maintenance bill with a one off capital bill (with arguably a smaller ongoing maintenance cost), it will be relieving pressure on the funds which are needed to look after people in extreme need.
Funding pressures on local government affect their Revenue funding primarily. Pressure on capital funding is not as bad. Revenue funds are used to fund social care, road repairs and waste disposal. It is this funding stream which is under impossible strains as central government imposes its Austerity measures and renders all our services less and less able to cope. So all local authorities have to balance roads and waste against social care. It is quite clearly insane, but until we sack the government as we are entitled to do at each general election, there is no sign of a change in this wicked situation. And local authority roads get a small fraction of the maintenance money which Highways England gets to maintain trunk roads. Unfortunately Rhubarb Bridge does not belong to Highways England. It belongs to the council.
This leaves a number of items which haven’t been accounted for: lets call them uncounted elephants in the room:
- The likely cost of accidents at an at surface crossing. It is clear that this has not been factored in. There is clearly an increased risk of impacts on emergency, hospital and care services budgets.
- The impact of being at ground level at an air pollution hot spot on all pedestrian and cyclists using the route. The higher you are the less likely you are to be inhaling high concentrates of particulates. The closer you are the more certain it is. In pushchairs children are face to face with exhaust pipes and this is just one reason (of many) why parents pop them in what seems to be the safer environment of a car.
- The at surface crossing will result in cyclists taking to the road, rather than wait.
- The at surface crossing will result in people getting into a car in preference to walking with a pram or pushchair.
And it leaves my original question standing: why the council hasn’t tried to get hold of (let us add “capital”) funding to rebuild the bridge – if it is beyond economic repair?