Potholes: 2017 could be ‘tipping point year' warn councils

Media release 7 January 2017

2017 could be a tipping point year for potholes, warn councils – as a new analysis shows the repair bill could reach £14 billion within two years.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says the overall repair figure has been steadily growing. According to statistics from the Asphalt Industry Alliance's (AIA), annual ALARM survey, the total has risen from £9.8 billion in 2012 to £11.8 billion last year. At this current rate, it is projected to rise to £14 billion by around 2019.

£14 billion is more than three times councils' entire annual revenue spending on highways and transport (£4.4 billion)  – covering issues like highways maintenance and the concessionary fares scheme for buses.

Meanwhile, the pothole repair time has surged from an estimated 10.9 years in 2006 to 14 years in 2016. Councils fix almost two million potholes a year – an average of 12,000 potholes for each local authority. Yet the average English authority currently faces a £69 million estimated one-time cost to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.

To reverse this trend, the LGA is calling for the Government to inject a further £1 billion a year into roads maintenance. This could be achieved by investing just 2p per litre of existing fuel duty. It stressed this should not be paid for by increasing fuel duty rates.

Previous LGA polling shows that 83 per cent of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.

This would help tackle the damage done to our roads by recent harsh winters and decades of underfunding by successive governments, which has seen the national backlog of road repairs spiral.

The LGA points out that over the remaining years of the decade the Government will invest more than £1.1 million per mile in maintaining national roads - which make up just 3 per cent of all total roads.

This level of investment contrasts starkly with the £27,000 per mile investment in maintaining local roads, which are controlled by councils and make up 97 per cent of England's road network. This gulf in funding puts the country's businesses at a competitive disadvantage and provides poor value for money, argues the LGA. Virtually every "national" journey starts and ends locally, which means the road network is not working for people in their corner of the country.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Transport spokesman, said:

"This year could be a tipping point year regarding potholes and councils, who have experienced significant budget reductions, now face the looming prospect of a bill of £14 billion to bring the nation's roads up to scratch.

"It is wrong and unfair that the Government allocates almost 40 times more to maintaining national roads, which it controls, compared with local roads, which are overseen by councils. It is paramount this funding discrepancy is swiftly plugged.

"It is becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds again last year despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our crumbling roads. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how they use this diminishing funding pot but they remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave them able to patch up our deteriorating roads.

"Councils share the frustration of motorists having to pay to drive on roads that are often inadequate. Our polling has shown that 83 per cent of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.

"Our roads crisis is only going to get worse unless we address it as a national priority. The Government's own traffic projections predict a potential increase in local traffic of up to 55 per cent by 2040. Councils desperately need long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade.

"Motorists pay billions to the Treasury each year in fuel duty when they fill up their car at the pumps only to then have to drive on roads that are decaying after decades of underfunding. They deserve roads fit for the 21st century."

Notes to editors

Councils' highways and transport services spending

  1. Key findings of the 2016 ALARM survey, an annual survey of highway bosses in England carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), are:
    • Councils fixed almost 2 million potholes in the last 12 months. On average each local authority fixed 12,000 potholes last year
    • It would take 14 years to clear the repair backlog and it would take 65 years to resurface our entire road network. A similar survey by the AIA in 2006 showed the maintenance backlog was 10.9 years. This figure, and the 2016 figure, excludes London.
    • The average highway maintenance budget per local authority has fallen by 16 per cent.
    • The average English authority faces a £69 million estimated one-time cost to brings its road up to a reasonable condition.
  2. A previous LGA survey found 83 per cent of those polled would support a move to reinvest a proportion of existing fuel duty back into local areas to help bring our roads up to scratch
  3. The latest government projections show up to 55 per cent increase in traffic by 2040.

6 January 2017


Matthew Cooper
0207 664 3333