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Pothole ‘crisis’ looming – LGA

Councils across the UK will find it almost impossible to keep on top of road repairs if they are stripped of more funding in next month’s autumn statement, the LGA has said.

It says the situation would become “critical” if we have another harsh winter like 2010/11, which caused £600 million of road damage, and that the Government’s urge for councils to pay for repairs through working more efficiently are “pure fantasy”.

The association is blaming “decades of underfunding, recent severe winters and widespread flooding earlier this year, compounded by the current Government cutting half a billion pounds from roads maintenance budgets”.

Cllr Peter Box, who chairs the LGA’s Economy and Transport Board, said: “Keeping roads safe is one of the most important jobs councils do and over the past two years they have fixed almost four million potholes, one every 16 seconds. They’ve also reduced the cost of filling a pothole by 25% and are constantly looking for ways to make their dwindling funds go further.

“However, for decades Whitehall funding for repairs has not kept pace with demand. Damage caused by severe winters and widespread flooding has compounded this deterioration and councils are now contending with massive cuts to roads maintenance funding and millions of pounds in compensation payouts for pothole damage.

“It's estimated that it would now cost about £10bn to bring our roads up to scratch. Notions that the widespread resurfacing, which is desperately needed, can be paid for by efficiency savings and smarter use of money are pure fantasy. Unless something fundamentally changes, many councils will struggle to keep on top of repairs. Should they have their funding cut further or face another severe winter the impact on our already crumbling roads could be catastrophic.

“Re-directing funding into road maintenance would offer an instant boost to growth, improve road safety and save billions of pounds down the line from the current false economy of reactive repairs which many councils are trapped in. Thousands of jobs in the construction and supply sector would be created immediately and there would be many mid-term economic benefits by reducing the cost to business caused by the current state of many roads.”

Reactive repairs are 20 times more expensive than laying a good quality surface which lasts for many years and is far more resistant to flood and ice damage, the LGA notes. But the DfT is reducing the Highways Maintenance Budget it gives councils by £442m over the four years of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

These cuts are on top of the 28% cut in core funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government, money which councils use to support road repairs and which is being increasingly consumed by spiralling adult social care costs.

AA president Edmund King said: “We are extremely concerned about this warning. Potholes are a scourge for all road users, whatever means of transport they are using. Cyclists and motorcyclists risk serious injuries, motorists face financial loss and communities can be blighted by potholes.”

Transport minister Norman Baker said: "This Government is providing more than £3bn to councils across England for road maintenance between 2011 and 2015, demonstrating our commitment to maintaining our existing transport infrastructure. We also provided an additional £200m in March 2011 to help repair local roads damaged by the severe winter weather in 2010.”

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