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Increased spend starts to arrest pothole plague

26 Mar There are signs that an increase in local authority highway maintenance budgets might be stemming the decline in the condition of the local road network – but there is still not enough money to maintain local roads to target conditions.

Potholes, damn potholes
Potholes, damn potholes

The 2019 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, published today by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), reports that, for the second consecutive year, local authorities’ highway maintenance budgets have increased by almost 20%. For councils in England and London this included a share of £420m additional funding allocated in the November 2018 budget.

The 24th ALARM report shows there are early signs that the extra money is halting further decline, after years of underfunding have led to a local road network on the edge. However, the one-time catch-up cost to fix the network continues to rise, the industry says.

Asphalt Industry Alliance chairman Rick Green said: “There are glimmers of hope but, while overall highway maintenance budgets are up, there is still a big discrepancy between the haves and have nots. Some local authorities received the equivalent of £90,000 per mile of their individual networks, while a third continue to struggle with reduced budgets, with several having less than £9,000 per mile to maintain their local roads.

“Achieving target conditions on all categories of local roads – those that we all rely on every day – still remains out of reach. To put this into context, if local authorities had enough funds to meet their own targets across all road types it would give us more than 20,000 miles of improved local roads.

“It is encouraging that those in control of the purse strings seem to have recognised the value that additional expenditure on roads can deliver. But it’s clear from the 29% increase in the number of potholes filled in England and London, that much of this has been used for patch and mend. This doesn’t provide value for money, nor will it improve the underlying structure and resilience of our roads.

“With the amount needed to bring the local road network up to scratch still approaching £10bn, sustained investment over a longer timeframe is needed if we want a local road network that supports enhanced mobility, connectivity and productivity.

“Last year the AIA set out that £1.5bn additional funding was needed for local roads each year for the next 10 years to allow them to be brought up to a condition from which they can be managed in a cost-effective way. We stand by this call.”

Edmund King, president of the AA motoring organisation, added: “The ALARM survey suggests that the country is beginning to find its way out of the rut. Increased funding and a milder winter presents an opportunity to begin to catch up on the backlog – but any slackening off will simply pitch our roads back into a deep hole.

“Government figures for road maintenance expenditure show that, while spending on main roads has risen 25% over the past 10 years (2007/08 – £1102m; 2017/18 – £1,378m), it has fallen more than 21% on minor roads (2007/08 – £2,487m, 2017/18 £1,953m). At street level, as the ALARM survey shows, drivers will be lucky to see many of their local roads resurfaced more than once in their lifetime, thanks to an average interval of 67 years. There is still a lot of work to be done.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Our road system is as much an essential utility as the power, water and telecoms networks. It helps drive the nation’s economic success. The government was rightly congratulated when it committed to a five-yearly work and funding programme for our major roads including motorways, but we are yet to come up with something similar for council-controlled highways.

“This report shows why a move away from patch and repair to a sustained investment plan is so urgently needed and it echoes last year’s National Infrastructure Committee call for the same thing.”

Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils share the frustration of motorists about the state of our local roads and, as this survey shows, fixing our roads is a priority for them. Faced with severe financial pressures, councils have managed to spend more on road repairs in the past year in order to fix a pothole every 17 seconds.

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“Despite these efforts, it is clear that our roads are deteriorating at a faster rate than can be repaired by councils, with the cost of clearing our alarming national roads repair backlog on the rise and now at almost £10bn.

“Extra one-off funding announced in the budget will help councils continue to try and improve roads this year but the spending review needs to provide councils with long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade.

“Reinvesting 2 pence per litre of existing fuel duty into local road maintenance would provide £1bn a year for councils to spend on improving roads and filling potholes and begin bringing our roads up to scratch.”

Key findings of ALARM 2019 survey

Average highway maintenance budgets up almost 20% – to £24.5m per authority, up from £20.6m reported in 2018.

Local authorities reported that, on average, 55% of the average annual highway maintenance is spent on the carriageway.

Disparity of funding – ranging from less than £9,000 per mile of local authority road network to more than £90,000 per mile.

  £657m: – annual carriageway budget shortfall (£4.1m per authority in England; £4m in London and £2.8m in Wales).

  £9.79bn: – estimated one-time cost to get roads back into a reasonable, steady state (£69.9m per authority in England; £31.9m in London and £36.3m in Wales).

67 years:  – average time before a road is resurfaced (79 years in England; 28 years in London and 59 years in Wales).

  More potholes filled – equivalent to 1 every 17 seconds in England and Wales.

  £26.7m: – total cost of dealing with compensation claims, including £6.9 million paid out in compensation.

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