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Local roads and governance: an inquiry

Source: PSE Oct/Nov 2018

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, discusses the inquiry that MPs are launching into the state of England’s local road network.

The “appalling condition of virtually every road” in the UK is a “terrible epidemic” and a “national scandal bordering on criminal negligence.” These are the words of a contributor to our new inquiry into local roads and governance.

In written evidence, Mr Jones describes how his 10-year-old grandson smashed his face and teeth on the road after his bicycle hit a rain-filled pothole while out cycling with his mum. Despite being kitted out with all the safety equipment, his grandson endured time in hospital and specialist dentistry work and has suffered a crisis in confidence about cycling.

According to Cycling UK, Mr Jones’ grandson is one cyclist among many; there have been 22 deaths and 368 serious injuries to cyclists since 2007 where road disrepair has been a contributory factor.

Local roads are the arteries of prosperous towns and cities, but even on brief journeys to the local shop, you too may have had cause to remark on the state of disrepair.

According to the Road Surface Treatments Association, the local road network is the country’s greatest infrastructure asset. It comprises 183,000 miles, represents 97% of the total road network, and is worth over £340bn. It is expected to carry more traffic than ever before: Department for Transport statistics put traffic at a record high, with the largest increases in use on local roads.

The consequences of a deteriorating local road network are significant, undermining the economic performance of a region and resulting in direct costs to motorists, such as through damage to road vehicles. Between 2012 and 2017, compensation claims due to damage caused by local potholes cost England’s local authorities £43m.

But many local authorities struggle to find the funding for road repairs. The latest Asphalt Industry Association ALARM survey reveals a marked decrease in road surfacing frequency reported by English councils; on average, for all classes of road, this had dropped from once every 55 years to once every 92 years. And drivers have noticed: a recent AA-Populus Driver Poll of more than 17,000 people revealed that only 15% believe local roads are maintained to a high standard. 

With this in mind, my committee launched an inquiry to consider the situation in England. We are keen to hear from anyone with insight on how local roads have fared over time, particularly compared with other parts of England’s road network. We’d like to know more about the direct and wider economic and social costs of not maintaining local roads.

Is the quality of monitoring and reporting of local road conditions adequate, and is the current approach to maintenance appropriate? Could it be improved?

We will be considering the suitability of governance structures for maintaining local roads and whether any changes are required. We will examine the suitability of current funding streams and their long-term future. Is there a role for alternative models given the constraints on local authority budgets? The regional distribution of funding across England also merits our attention.

Local roads are critical to the movement of goods as well as our own journeys for both business and leisure. We know that this is a high-priority issue among the public, and I hope we will help put the onus on the government to address it sooner rather than later. 


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