The government is hoping to improve road surfaces by imposing new standards on roadworks carried out by utility companies.

At present, companies must guarantee road repairs for a minimum of two years, but government proposals announced today would see that increase to five years. This would mean any potholes forming as a result of a utility firm’s roadworks within half a decade would have to be repaired by the firm that carried out the work.

At the same time, the Department for Transport (DfT) also wants to introduce new standards for the asphalt itself. Under the new proposals, companies would be able to use new “innovative” surfacing, such as asphalt with a higher bitumen content, which would be more resistant to potholing.

Workman using a cold milling machine in London

“Potholes are the biggest enemy for road users and this government is looking at all options to keep our roads in the best condition,” said Transport Minister Chris Grayling. “Road surfaces can be made worse by utility companies, so imposing higher standards on repairs will help keep roads pothole-free for longer.”

Large deep road pot hole in Wisbech Norfolk UK

The RAC praised the plan, but said the proposal should be extended to apply to all road maintenance, rather than just work carried out by utility companies.

“This on the face of it is a very sensible and welcome idea,” said the RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes. “Utility company roadworks should not lead to an overall worsening of road surface quality.

“The next logical step that could make a far greater difference to the standard of the country’s local road network is to ensure all road contractors working for local authorities have to provide the same guarantee. The quality of road maintenance, whether that’s repairs or resurfacing, needs to come under closer scrutiny to guard against substandard workmanship. This way every pound spent on our roads would last longer and motorists would have far better surfaces to drive on.”

Loughlin labourers repaving the street in London

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils and local authorities, also welcomed the proposals, saying the measures would save councils money and improve road surfaces.

“Increasing the guarantee period on utility firms’ roadworks is good news for motorists and cyclists,” said the LGA’s transport spokesman, Councillor Martin Tett. “Helping to ensure any shoddy road repairs will be the responsibility of contractors to put right at their expense and not passed on to the taxpayer, will save money from councils’ stretched budgets. Introducing new asphalt standards will also make roads less prone to potholes which councils are fixing every 21 seconds.”

Aerial view on the new asphalt road under construction

But Tett warned that the government’s plans would not help councils foot the huge bill for clearing the streets of potholes, which currently stands at more than £9 billion.

“We remain concerned that these measures do not fully address the £9.3 billion backlog of road repairs to provide better roads that are safer and more resilient to constant use,” he said. “The government needs to address this in the forthcoming Spending Review.”