Thousands of miles of Britain's roads could be strewn with potholes within months without reform of how Government funds maintenance, highways bosses are warning.
Decades of underfunding, recent severe winters and widespread flooding earlier this year, compounded by the current Government cutting half-a-billion pounds from roads maintenance budgets, means many councils are struggling to move beyond simply patching up a deteriorating network.
Should councils, which are already bearing the brunt of public sector cuts, be stripped of even more funding in next month's Autumn Statement, many will find it nearly impossible to keep on top of road repairs. The issue would become critical should we undergo another harsh winter similar to 2010/11 which caused £600 million of road damage.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, is calling on Government to free up money and invest it in resurfacing the current network. This will not only allow councils to pay for resurfacing projects to make roads safer and save billions of pounds in the long term – reactive repairs are 20 times more expensive than laying a good quality surface which lasts for many years – but also boost jobs and growth in the short-term. A good quality surface is also far more resistant to flood and ice damage.
Cllr Peter Box, Chair of the LGA's Economy and Transport Board, said:
"Keeping roads safe is one of the most important jobs councils do and over the past two years they have fixed almost four million potholes, one every 16 seconds. They've also reduced the cost of filling a pothole by 25 per cent and are constantly looking for ways to make their dwindling funds go further.
"However, for decades Whitehall funding for repairs has not kept pace with demand. Damage caused by severe winters and widespread flooding has compounded this deterioration and councils are now contending with massive cuts to roads maintenance funding and millions of pounds in compensation payouts for pothole damage.
"It's estimated that it would now cost about £10 billion to bring our roads up to scratch. Notions that the widespread resurfacing, which is desperately needed, can be paid for by efficiency savings and smarter use of money are pure fantasy. Unless something fundamentally changes, many councils will struggle to keep on top of repairs. Should they have their funding cut further or face another severe winter the impact on our already crumbling roads could be catastrophic.
"Re-directing funding into road maintenance would offer an instant boost to growth, improve road safety and save billions of pounds down the line from the current false economy of reactive repairs which many councils are trapped in. Thousands of jobs in the construction and supply sector would be created immediately and there would be many mid-term economic benefits by reducing the cost to business caused by the current state of many roads."
The Department for Transport is reducing the Highways Maintenance Budget it gives councils by £442 million over the four years of the Comprehensive Spending Review. By 2014/15 councils will get £164 million a year less than in 2010/11, a 19 per cent drop. This is on top of the 28 per cent cut in core funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government, money which councils use to support road repairs and which is being increasingly consumed by spiralling adult social care costs. The Public Accounts Committee warned Government earlier this year that cuts to road maintenance funding risk being counterproductive.
Author: LGA Media Office
Contact: Ben Knowles, Local Government Association Media Team, Telephone: 020 7664 3333
Notes to editors
1. This year's ALARM survey estimated it would cost £9.8 billion to pay for the road maintenance backlog across England and Wales. It found the annual shortfall in road structural budgets was £788 million which equates to each highways authority being £5.3 million short of the money needed to maintain the condition of their roads. It also found councils paid out £21.3 million in compensation claims.
Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM Survey)
2. The breakdown of DfT's cuts to the annual Highways Maintenance Budget is:
2010/11: £871 million
2011/12: £806 million
2012/13: £779 million
2013/14: £750 million
2014/15: £707 million
3. In July, the Treasury announced Whitehall departments spent about £6.7 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.
4. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has also 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.
5. In 2007, the Government set up an emergency source of funding for councils which saw their roads and transport infrastructure severely damaged by flooding. Earlier this year, the LGA called for it to set up a similar scheme to support councils affected by the widespread flooding during spring and summer. Many were left with multi-million pound repair bills. Government refused.
6. Highways authorities (upper-tier 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.
22 November 2012