Greater investment and collaboration needed to tackle pothole repair backlog
Source: PSE Dec/Jan 17
Cllr Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and transport spokesman at the LGA, reflects on the ever-growing pothole repair backlog and what actions must be taken to tackle this issue.
As leader of a county council, I am acutely aware that potholes and the condition of our roads are one of the public’s main local concerns. Every politician in the country cares about potholes. From cabinet ministers to parish councillors, everyone who stands for election will have been told by constituents about potholes on their road. It is one of the most visible and obvious problems that we are asked to deal with. Despite the fact that potholes are an unending battle, councils do a lot, and with the help of government and utilities providers we could do more.
Potholes have a huge impact on our society above and beyond making our road surface uneven. Left untreated, potholes will continue to grow and will break up road surfaces. This in turn damages vehicles, and leads to slower journey times. This can result in lost productivity for the economy as a whole. There is also a direct cost to councils, who had to spend £13.5m on pothole compensation last year.
Councils fixed 2.2 million potholes last year – that’s a pothole every 15 seconds, despite significant budget reductions. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how we use our diminishing funding pot, but we remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave us able to patch up those roads that are inadequate. According to recent research from the asphalt industry, it would take 14 years to clear the repair backlog in England and Wales and 65 years to resurface our entire road network. The average highway maintenance budget per local authority has fallen by 16% last year meaning the backlog is growing all the time.
Urgent investment needed
We urgently need to boost the amount that is invested in our local road networks. Over the remaining years of the decade, government will invest over £1.1m per mile in maintaining national roads, which make up just 3% of all total roads. This level of investment contrasts starkly with the £27,000 per mile councils receive from government to invest in maintaining local roads, which account for 97% of England’s road network. Potholes cost an average of £64 each to repair, so you can see how thinly spread council money has become.
Last year, the previous chancellor announced an extra government Pothole Action Fund of £250m spread over the next five years. This is a step in the right direction, but in reality it is inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem. The fund is divided amongst all the country’s highways authorities. That means an average of less than £350,000 per authority per year. This is not even enough to stand still.
The LGA is calling for the government to treat local roads on a par with the strategic roads network (motorways and major trunk roads as run by Highways England), which from 2020 will get all of its funding from income received through Vehicle Excise Duty. By investing just 2p of existing fuel duty payments into local roads, we can clear the £12bn backlog of repairs. Our polling shows that 83% 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. Virtually every journey on the strategic roads network starts and ends on local roads – it makes little economic sense that the investment we make in local and national roads is so starkly different.
Greater collaboration required
It’s not enough for us to just spend more money. We need to ensure that councils and the utility companies work closely together. Every time the road surface is opened to put in new utilities, it is weakened. This means that even when works promoters do a good job in restoring the road after roadworks, it is still weaker than when they started.
Repairing and installing utilities is obviously vital and necessary work, but by working more closely together utility providers could collaborate with councils and each other to reduce the number of times that roads are opened – as well as ensuring that scheduled works dovetail with when councils will be resurfacing the road anyway. Greater collaboration will help us get more work done with fewer sets of roadworks. It will reduce congestion and protect our road surfaces.
Everyone can see the road surface outside their home and everyone can see a cracked potholed road. The obvious nature of the problem is why the public constantly bring it up with us politicians. However, it also means that when we fix the road surface the public can see that local government is dealing with their problems and making their street a better place to live. It sends out a clear signal to local people that we care about them and their daily lives and we haven’t forgotten the little things. That’s why it’s so vital we work together to help combat the scourge of potholes.
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