Potholes: The scourge of the roads

Source: PSE June/July 2018

Potholes are a scourge on our roads and can have much farther-reaching consequences than one might think. Re-routing just a small amount of existing fuel duty payments into local roads would go a long way to fixing the problem, writes Cllr Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and chairman of the LGA Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport Board.

As leader of a county council, I am acutely aware that potholes and the condition of our local 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, we could do more.

Potholes have a huge impact on our society above and beyond making our road surface uneven. Untreated potholes will continue to grow and will break up road surfaces. This in turn damages vehicles, as well as leading to slower journey times. This can result on lost productivity for the economy as a whole. There is also a direct cost to councils, who had to spend £28.3m on dealing with pothole compensation last year, which they would prefer to spend on repairing roads.

Councils fixed over 1.5 million potholes last year – that’s a pothole every 20 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 Alliance, it would take 14 years to clear the repair backlog in England and Wales and 78 years to resurface our entire road network.

We urgently need to boost the amount that is invested in our local road networks. The government plans to spend £1.1m per mile to maintain its strategic road network between 2015 and 2020. In comparison, it will provide councils with just £21,000 per mile for the local roads they maintain over the same period. This is despite an increase in the number of cars travelling on local roads, average speeds falling and local roads making up 97% of the country’s road network.

Potholes cost an average of £75 each to repair, so you can see how thinly spread council money has become.

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 have funding certainty guaranteed over a five-year period. By investing just 2p of existing fuel duty payments into local roads, we can clear the £9bn 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. If the benefits of improvements to the strategic network simply means getting onto a potholed local network quicker, then the anticipated benefits of the government’s investment will be lost.

Everyone can see the road surface outside their home and will likely travel on a cracked or potholed road as part of their daily commute. The obvious nature of the problem is why the public constantly bring the problem up with 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 and use. 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 to help combat the scourge of potholes.


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