‘Up-down’ approach to highways maintenance funding ‘wasteful’

A legacy of inconsistent funding is still preventing local authorities from being able to provide long term, cost effective maintenance improvements for local roads.

highway maintenanceThat’s according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), who commissions an annual survey of highways departments in all local authorities in England and Wales to build a picture of the general condition of local roads.

The latest edition of the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, published on 31 March, shows local authorities saw highway maintenance budgets rise by 15% in 2020/21.

This was in part due to additional funding from central Government, including the Pothole Fund in England, as well as supplementary pots to support changes as a result of Covid-19 needs and active travel ambitions.

The additional funding led to a large increase in the number of potholes filled over the last 12 months – 1.7 million in total – the equivalent of one every 19 seconds.

However, budgets reported are still lower than they were two years ago, and road conditions have yet to see any significant improvement.

The ALARM survey shows across England and Wales, there are more than 4,000 fewer miles of road reported to be in ‘good’ structural condition, with 15 years or more of life remaining, compared to last year.

The AIA says the Government’s “up-down approach” to funding results in “wasteful patch and mend repairs” as local authorities have a statutory duty to maintain the highway but don’t have the scope or certainty of funding to implement more cost effective, proactive repairs.

Rick Green, chair of the AIA, said: “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 to keep our key workers and emergency services moving, supermarket shelves stocked and vaccines distributed.

“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 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.”


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