If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
6th October, 1913. To the Editor of "The Times."
I am surprised to find that the County Engineer of Middlesea, Mr. H. T. Wakelam, refers to a em of £1,200,000 as part of the expenditure during the past ten years on road maintenance, and complains that it was not included by me. This alleged further expenditure at the rate of £120,000 per annum is not given under " Main Roads " in the annual financial reports of the Finance Committee of the Middlesex County Council for the past five years, nor is any reference made to it in the statement by the Chairman of the Middlesex County Council concerning seine of the principal operations in the .County for the three years ended February last. Where does MT. Wakelam find this figure, and what class of roads does it concern? He is silent on those points.
I must point out that my letter concerned " the cost of the maintenance of main roads," whereas Mr. Wakelam possibly seeks to alter the Wei& of discussion so that it may concern not only the maintenance of other roads as well, but expenditure on 'improving and re-surfacing roads in the County." Why should Mr. Wakelam seek to confuse the iseue by introducing expenditure which he fails to explain, and which I have reason to believe largely concerns the wood-paving and widening of certain roads in the County for tramway purposes, and the practical creation of certain new roads for the same purpose? None of thic tramway expenditure was undertaken primarily for the benefit of ordinary or motor traffic, and it cannot now be legitimately transferred by Mr. Wakela.m from one account to another. It. in no event affects my contention that the Middlesex County Council has failed to spend money on the maintenance of its main roads in proportion to the growth of the rateable value of the County. This, I repeat,. was the main contention in my letter which appeared in "The Times" of the 1st inst. I was not concerned with new capital expenditure on tramways account.. If Mr. Wakelani seeks to alter the basis from main roads to all road, he must, before your readers can form an independent opinion concerning the relation of all expenditure on roads in the County to the increase of its rateable value, give figures in respect of all roads, corresponding with those for main roads published as Table I in my letter, dating back' to 1889. Such figures will be interesting, but they will not affect the correctness of my statement as to expenditure on main-road maintenance.
The County Engineer gives certain figures concerning particular highways along which motorbus traffic has been established. These figures are, on the face of them, serious, and they substantiate my expressed view that " particular cases of special or extraordinary damage along particular roads may call for corresponding coneideration and treatment." I am, however, not alone in holding the opinion that much of this extra expenditure might have been avoided by the adoption of timely precautions to meet the new conditions, On this point of the manner in which macadamized roads in the County of Middlesex have been re-surfaced or re-constructed with the avowed intention of rendering them suitable for modern heavy traffic, I should like to state that the proposals which the Middlesex County Council has from time to time put forward, by the mouth or pen of its County Surveyor, in favour of a new levy upon motorbus traffic, have been of an altogether-extravagant nature. Proposed levies which preclude all possibility of compromise or negotiation have been suggested, whereas, if there were evidences of reasonableness, there are grounds for believing that the proprietors of the motorbuses would be willing to enter into a conference on the subject. I certainly offer my assistance in that direction, becanee I feel that the present remedy of an appeal to the Courts, in an action for extraordinary traffic damage, is equally unsatisfactory to both parties. Road authorities, by "opening their mouths " unnecessarily wide, are merely deferring the holding of any such conference, and are thereby postponing a course which might provide a mod us vivendi before any prospective legislation can be of effect.
Mr. Wakelam states that "grants in relief from. Imperial funds" have represented a minus quantity, in Middlesex, for many years past. That is too narrow a view of the circumstances, and I designedly sought to draw attention to the facts in this connection.
At the time of the passing of the Local Government Act of 1888, half of the cost, of the maintenance of main roads of this country was defrayed from Imperial funds. By the Act of 1888, which was a financial settlement that commended itself to the County Councils, these grants were put on a statutory basis, and were definitely allocated to meet various expenditure by County Councils, inclusive of roads. That
was the bargain at the time, although it is not specifically stated in the Act of 1888 that any of this money in substitu thin of the earlier grants was so to be applied: County Councils are authorized to apply ouch money in the payment of a variety of charges connected with education, sanitation, registration, lunacy, quarter sessions and police. Middlesex is the only County which spends so much under these other heads that there is no surplus left for direct allocation to the roads. I cannot see that Mr. Wakelam is justified in ignoring the receipts which have been spent in other directions. The nonapplication of any part of these to the roads leaves the road rate, on his own maximum published figures, at 3d. in the £ to-day, compared with 4.2d. in the £ in the year 1904—the first year in which Middlesex had no surplus for road purposes after meeting the so-called " priority charges" under the Act of 1888. On this basis, with all considerations of grants in aid eliminated, Middlesex should spend, on mainroad maintenance, £126,319 from its own rates this year, and not only an estimated 290,000.
I will admit that I was unaware of the peculiar case of Middlesex in regard to the expenditure of the whole of its funds from the National Exchequer in the above-indicated directions. As, however, heavy motor traffic has only become considerable in volume since the year 1904, the factor of assistance from Imperial funds can be dismissed from relative inquiry. The expenditure on maintenance of the main roads of Middlesex, concerning which I wrote, has increased by only £7000 per annum since 1904, whereas the rateable value of the County has increased by £1,880,396, and the product of a id. rate has increased from £22,241 to .£30,076.
My main contention has not been assailed by Mr. Wakelam. I maintain that the official statistics and reports of the Middlesex County Council show that annual expenditure on the maintenance of main roads in the County has decreased per £1 of rateable value. Until that expenditure is brought up to the older levels, the ratepayers of the County are certainly not entitled—unless in a few exceptional cases—to complain that the prevision of ferther money for the maintenance of the County's main roads is a hardship.—Yours faithfully,
E. S. SHRAPNELL-SMITH, Editor of THE COMMERCIAL MOTOR. 7-15, Rosebery Avenue, E.C.