Months of rain and floods have devastated roads across the country, leaving councils facing multi-million pound repair bills.
Council leaders are warning the urgent nature of the repairs could leave their already stretched annual budgets in disarray. Funds may have to be diverted from other areas to plug the gap, meaning unforeseen cuts to services or new infrastructure projects to boost growth being put on the back-burner.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, is calling for the Department for Transport to set up an Emergency Capital Highways Maintenance Fund, as it did following the floods of 2007.
As well as cracks and potholes, the persistent wet weather has caused large sections of roads, pavements and footpaths to collapse, bridges and tunnels to crumble and overwhelmed drainage systems to break.
Some authorities are facing bills of several million pounds and current figures are only preliminary estimates meaning the actual costs are likely to be higher.
In response to recent severe flooding, Government announced the Bellwin Scheme – a source of emergency financial help for councils – would pay out a higher percentage of councils' costs to help them get stricken communities and businesses back on their feet. Councils will still be left millions of pounds out of pocket though, and Bellwin does not cover road repairs which are not eligible because they are classed as capital spending.
Councillor Sir Merrick Cockell, Chair of the LGA, said:
"The relentless rain and flooding we've endured over the past few months has left our road network in disarray. Across the country new potholes and cracks have opened up, carriageways have completely collapsed, bridges and tunnels are crumbling and overwhelmed drainage systems have broken.
"The true scale of the damage is still coming to light but some councils, who were already managing severe budget cuts, are facing bills of £10 million to make their roads safe. This is money they hadn't budget for and don't have lying around, but not carrying out these repairs isn't an option.
"Bellwin funding is a huge help to councils in supporting flooded communities and businesses to get back on their feet, but it can't be used for major road damage. Some councils are facing near impossible decisions to further reduce already stretched services or cancel plans for much-needed infrastructure projects to boost growth.
"We know times are tough, but we also know Government has money available. Many councils urgently need financial support to help them repair their ravaged roads and get local growth back on track."
Newcastle City Council – £9 million
Devon County Council – £5 million
Northumberland County Council – £1.4 million
Author: LGA Media Office
Contact: LGA Media Office, Telephone: 020 7664 3333
Notes to editors
To be put in touch with an affected council, or for pictures of damage, contact Ben Knowles on 0207 6643252.
Highways authorities (county, unitary, metropolitan and London borough councils) are responsible for nine out of every 10 miles of road – about 225,000 miles throughout the UK. England and Wales has 174 highways authorities. The Highways Agency is responsible for motorways and major A roads, while Transport for London is responsible for arterial trunk roads in London.
Following the severe floods of 2007, the Department for Transport set up the Emergency Capital Highways Maintenance Fund to help councils pay for emergency and unforeseeable capital works to their highways networks.
In April, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asked each government department to set aside cash reserves worth five per cent of their budgets, or identify programmes that can be cut to provide the money, to pay for new initiatives or deal with unforeseen events. For the Department of Transport this would be about £650 million.
The Treasury recently announced Whitehall departments spent about £6 billion less than expected during 2011/12. The Department of Transport reportedly underspent by about £500 million. There was also a £2.34 billion capital underspend on infrastructure projects across Government.
Earlier this month, the LGA wrote to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) asking it to better support councils seeking additional emergency financial support following recent floods. In response, it upped the percentage of council costs that Bellwin will cover, from 80 to 100 per cent. However, each council has a payout threshold based 0.2 per cent of their budget which they must cover before receiving Bellwin cash.
Councils support flooded communities and businesses in a variety of ways, such as offering hardship funds and loans, free clean-up kits and programmes of volunteering support.
31 August 2012