The one-time cost of filling every pothole in England and Wales has risen to well over £11 billion, according to a new report. It’s an increase of more than £1 billion on last year’s figure, which stood at £9.7 billion, suggesting the UK’s roads have deteriorated dramatically in the past 12 months.
The figures come from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), which says it supports local authorities and provides a “detailed picture of the condition of the local road network”. The organisation’s the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey this year revealed that it would cost a total of £11.14 billion to fix every pothole in England and Wales, while the number of roads rated ‘poor’ has increased.
To be rated ‘poor’ by the ALARM survey, a road surface must have less than five years of life remaining, whereas roads rated ‘good’ have 15 or more years before they need resurfacing. Over the past year, the study shows that 1,100 more miles of road are now rated ‘poor’, while 7,240 fewer miles of road are rated good.
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Over the same period, the survey says the average council’s annual highway maintenance budget has fallen 16 percent, dropping to just under £27 million. This money isn’t just used for potholes, but also for bridge maintenance, maintaining “street furniture” such as traffic signals and signposts, and even road sweeping. According to the AIA, that means the budget shortfall - the difference between the amount councils need to maintain roads and the amount they receive - now stands at more than £826 million.
However, one shred of comfort can be taken from the figures showing the amount of time and money councils spent settling compensation claims has fallen. In total, councils across England and Wales (not including London) handed out £8.1 million in compensation, but the administration costs associated with that meant compensation cost councils almost £23 million in total.
The news comes after the government announced a £2.5 billion cash injection for local roads in England, but the AIA said that would not be enough to plug the shortfall in budgets.
“Over the past 25 years we have repeatedly seen a pattern of short-term cash injections to stem accelerating decline, followed by further years of underfunding,” said Rick Green, the chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance. “This stop-start approach is wasteful and has done little to improve the overall condition of this vital asset. In fact, it has just contributed to a rising bill to put things right. This year’s findings show us that the green shoots of improving conditions reported last year have not been sustained. Local authorities have once again reported more cuts to their overall budgets, and highway maintenance has taken a bigger hit than some other departments as cash-strapped authorities make increasingly difficult decisions on how reduced funds are allocated.
“The pledge of an extra £2.5 billion for English local roads over five years is a big step in the right direction. However, £500 million extra a year for English local authorities is not even enough to plug the £616 million reported shortfall in carriageway maintenance in England. What’s more, it’s only a fraction of the estimated £11.14 billion needed across England, London and Wales to bring the local network up to a level from which it can be maintained cost-effectively going forward.
“Additional and sustained investment in our local roads will help underpin the government’s levelling-up strategy and social cohesion goals, as well as complementing its ambitions for more sustainable modes of transport.”
Meanwhile Councillor David Renard, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said the government’s extra funding was welcome.
“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,” he said. “Despite the financial pressures councils face, they continue to fix a pothole every 21 seconds. Yet 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 national roads backlog on the rise and now over £10 billion.
“Additional funding announced in the Budget will help councils to do more to maintain our roads this year and tackle our local road repairs backlog, and we look forward to seeing the details of how this money will be allocated between councils. To help councils go further to maintain our roads, they need devolved infrastructure and public transport budgets – ensuring a funding allocation in advance for five years, which would enable them to deliver infrastructure improvements that allow people to move around in less carbon intensive and more sustainable ways.”