It would still cost the government more than £10 billion to fill in all English and Welsh potholes despite an increase in funding, according to an industry body. The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) annual ALARM study, which tracks road conditions across the country, shows even a double-digit rise in investment has not made much impact on our roads.
This year’s survey, published on March 31, shows authorities received a 15-percent increase in highway maintenance budgets – partly thanks to additional funding from central government. However, the AIA says the budgets reported are still lower than they were two years ago, and that means road conditions have not improved noticeably in the past 12 months.
Although the estimated one-time cost of fixing all English and Welsh potholes is now £10.24 billion – a reduction of about £900,000,000 on last year’s figure – it’s still higher than it was two years ago. The percentage of English local roads deemed to be in good condition has also improved on 2020’s figure, up from 51 percent to 55 percent, but that is simply a return to the levels seen in 2019.
In Wales, the situation appears to be even worse, with roads deteriorating relative to last year and the year before. West of the border, just half of all local roads are in ‘good’ condition (down from 53 percent in 2020) and the proportion of roads rated ‘poor’ has risen from 12 percent in 2019 to 21 percent in 2021.
The study estimated the total shortfall in annual road carriageway budgets across England and Wales to be around £750 million – around £4.5 million per authority. To get the roads up to scratch, however, each authority would have to spend an average of just over £61 million.
The relative lack of long-term progress has frustrated the AIA, which says the “up-down” approach to funding results in “wasteful” patching repairs as authorities fulfil their statutory obligation to maintain the carriageway but fail to implement more cost-effective, proactive repairs. The organisation says properly funding councils would see 14,400 miles of local roads returned to a ‘good’ state of repair, with 2,000 fewer miles in need of urgent improvement.
“The last year has been like no other and the hidden heroes responsible for maintaining our local roads should be proud of the role they played working throughout the pandemic,” said Rick Green, chair of the AIA. “While the extra funding in 2020/21 was welcomed, using it to repeatedly fill in potholes is essentially a failure as it does nothing to improve the resilience of the network. The average frequency of road surfacing is now once every 68 years and the bill to fix the backlog of maintenance work on our local roads in England and Wales remains in excess of £10 billion.
“It is clear that a longer term approach to local road funding is needed, similar to the five-year commitment made to the strategic road network, to allow local authority highway engineers to plan ahead and implement a more proactive, sustainable and cost effective whole life approach to maintaining the network. This commitment is vital to the nation’s post-pandemic reset in which we will rely on our local road network to support recovery and underpin active travel and levelling-up goals.”