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24.09.15

Local roads get only a third of highways funding per km, despite need for ‘urgent’ repairs

Local highways authorities receive significantly less maintenance cash per kilometre than national roads managed by Highways England, despite far more local roads than national being in “urgent need” of repair.

A report by pteg, the Passenger Transport Executive Group, which represents six metropolitan transport bodies in outside London, found that Highways England gets to spend £111,000 per road km it looks after, while local authorities spend only £41,000 per km for principal routes, and just £7,000 per km for secondary roads.

Of the whole road network in England, 98% is managed by local bodies, which also account for two-thirds of traffic.

Funding for Highways England will also more than double over the next five years, but maintenance spending on local roads has dropped by 25% since 2010 in real terms.

In the six metropolitan areas in England covered by pteg, for example – with a combined population of 11 million – there were 5,500km of local roads in “urgent need” of repair last year, compared to just 220km across the Highways England network.

Chair of pteg, Dr Jon Lamonte, who is chief executive of Transport for Greater Manchester, said: “It’s good that the government has recognised the value and benefits of ensuring that the Highways England strategic road network is well maintained. However, most of the traffic on national motorways and highways starts or finishes on local highways, and those highways also need to be well maintained if the road network as a whole is to be reliable, safe and efficient.

“The funding gap on maintenance between national and local is particularly acute for city regions given the volumes of traffic and the wider role of efficient and reliable transport networks in underpinning our plans for growth.

“Preventing our busy city highways from crumbling is vital not just for cars and lorries but also for buses, trams, cyclists and pedestrians. In particular, if we are to cut congesting by encouraging more journeys to be made on foot or by bike, then we need better roads with fewer potholes and other potential dangers.”

The report also claimed that “stop-start road maintenance” is inefficient because it leads to “expensive, short-term patching and mending of crumbling roads” instead of planned and “pro-active” maintenance – which tackle problems before the structural integrity of a road is damaged.

It noted that the poor conditions of roads can drag down productivity and make it more expensive to move goods and people around, thus draining the public purse. According to pteg, research in the West Midlands suggested that an ‘accelerated maintenance programme’ would generate returns of £6.50 for every £1 of public investment.

Dr Lamonte added: “The long-term approach now being taken to road maintenance on the national road network will save money for the taxpayer in the long run. We now need to extend this approach to the next tier of strategic local roads and beyond, and put behind us the era of inefficient patch-and-mend of roads that have been allowed to deteriorate too far and for too long.”

The transport executive group called on Whitehall to create long-term certainty and stability over funding, alongside a potential ‘accelerated’ programme to increase cash injection in maintenance.

It also called on central government to give local authorities greater flexibility over how the maintenance funding is spent, particularly by relaxing some of the “artificial distinctions” between capital and revenue maintenance and allowing councils to determine their spending profile over time.

Earlier in September, the LGA warned that long-term local road repairs would be impossible to carry out unless the government increased its budget.

The association’s transport spokesman, Cllr Peter Box, said the £1.2bn backlog of road repairs would take councils more than a decade to clear, squeezing out opportunities for anything beyond patching up roads.

The warning came after a RAC report on motoring revealed that the state of local roads topped the list of British drivers’ concerns. It found that half of the 1,555 surveyed participants thought the state of roads had deteriorated over the last year.

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