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Pothole blitz fails to bring roads up to scratch

26 Mar 15 Additional funding to fill potholes is barely keeping pace with repairs, according to a new national survey published today.

The 20th Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (Alarm) survey highlights a 33% increase in the number of potholes filled over the last year − but no reduction in the amount of work and spending needed to bring the network up to scratch. It would take 13 years to clear the backlog, the survey found.

It estimates a one-time cost for each English authority outside London of £93m to get roads back into reasonable condition - the figure for Welsh authorities is £29.4m and for those in London it is £25.2m. The annual budget shortfall in England is put at £428m, and £80.8m in Wales.

Local authorities reported an increase in their overall maintenance budget but one in six roads in England and Wales are still classed as being in poor condition and an estimated £12.16bn is needed to get the local road network back into reasonable condition.

There were 2.38 million potholes filled in England -  160,000 in London alone - and 130,000 across Wales.

Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), which produces the Alarm survey, said that money would be better spent preventing potholes from forming.  “The government’s emergency funding for pothole and flood repair following last year’s wet winter has clearly contributed to the trends reported in this year’s survey,” he said. “Essentially, the money spent on filling the 2.7 million potholes reported is wasted − it is inefficient and short term in its effectiveness.

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“So, while we understand that the Department for Transport is promoting permanent repairs, the point remains that money would be better spent preventing potholes forming in the first place.”

Authorities in England and Wales have seen their average annual budget shortfall drop by 24%, from £4.2m in 2014 to £3.2m, the survey found. But the time it would take to clear the backlog has increased to 13 years, from 12 years in 2014.

Mackenzie added: “The £6 billion of funding pledged between 2015 and 2021 is welcome, and hopefully will be confirmed by an incoming government. But the truth is that although it sounds like a big investment, it will only be enough for local authorities to tread water and it will do nothing to tackle the backlog or prevent continuing deterioration.”

He said that about 85% of respondents acknowledged the benefits of structured road maintenance programmes as part of their long-term asset management plans. “Research has shown that adopting an ‘invest to save’ approach pays dividends − with every planned investment in the road network providing long-term savings of more than twice the value. Moving forward, we need planned structural maintenance, resurfacing, strengthening and reconstruction.”

This year’s survey also shows a dramatic increase in the amount paid in road user compensation claims in England (excluding London) which, at £20.2m, has doubled since last year. The costs for local authorities associated with processing claims also rose, with staff costs exceeding £17.8m − the equivalent of 225 hours per month per authority.

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