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Suffolk County Council could see highways locality budget changes

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Vital road changes such as crossings and 20mph zones could be completed faster if councillors are given access to four years of funding in one go.

Suffolk county councillors currently get £6,666 a year to spend on highways projects in their areas, which could include pedestrian crossings and new 20mph zones.

But new rules, expected to be rubber-stamped next week, would give them immediate access to the whole four-year locality budget worth £26,666.

That means they could spend it straight away, although the pot has got to last them for the length of their four-year term.

Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (10527836)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (10527836)

However the aim is to give councillors more flexibility – so they have the option of spending more money sooner, to deliver more expensive projects without having to wait for years.

Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for highways, said: “The locality budgets which enable the funding of small-scale schemes are a highly valued contribution to communities.

“The four-year allocation would enable councillors to deliver larger scale, or several smaller scale schemes earlier on in the election cycle.

“This would give councillors more flexibility to commit to schemes rather than having to wait for funds at the start of each financial year and would allow schemes to be delivered more quickly.”

The plans are set to be approved on Tuesday by Suffolk County Council’s cabinet.

Labour group highways spokesman Jack Owen, said: “There are two key problems with the current system – the prohibitively high cost of highways improvements in addition to an annual, rather than termly, release of funding.

“In short, councillors have not been able to fund some schemes that their communities desperately need.

“We know that a crossing point on a busy road, a pelican crossing or a full 20mph zone can make an enormous difference to our residents, so it is welcome the system has been reviewed.

“The council has done the right thing to encourage the pooling of resources and provide councillors with the full amount of highway locality money upfront.

“However, for these changes to work, it will require Suffolk Highways to review their charges as the costs for similar schemes do seem to be higher than other councils.

“This would mean that the likelihood of being able to complete important local projects becomes far more possible.”