Local authorities have warned that 2017 could represent a tipping point for potholes with new analysis showing the repair bill could reach £14 billion within two years.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says the overall repair figure has been steadily growing and warns that the country is facing a “roads crisis”.
According to statistics from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), the total has risen from £9.8 billion in 2012 to £11.8bn last year. At this current rate, it is projected to rise to £14bn by around 2019.
£14bn is more than three times councils’ entire annual revenue spending on highways and transport (£4.4bn) – covering issues like highways maintenance and the concessionary fares scheme for buses.
Cllr Martin Tett, LGA transport spokesman, said: “This year could be a tipping point year regarding potholes and councils, who have experienced significant budget reductions, now face the looming prospect of a bill of £14bn to bring the nation’s roads up to scratch.
“It is wrong and unfair that the Government allocates almost 40 times more to maintaining national roads, which it controls, compared with local roads, which are overseen by councils. It is paramount this funding discrepancy is swiftly plugged.”
Pothole repair time has surged from an estimated 10.9 years in 2006 to 14 years in 2016. Councils fix almost two million potholes a year – an average of 12,000 potholes for each local authority. Yet the average English authority currently faces a £69 million estimated one-time cost to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition.
To reverse this trend, the LGA is calling for the Government to inject a further £1bn a year into roads maintenance. This could be achieved by investing just 2p per litre of existing fuel duty. It stressed this should not be paid for by increasing fuel duty rates.
Previous LGA 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 local roads up to scratch.
The LGA points out that over the remaining years of the decade the Government will invest more than £1.1 million per mile in maintaining national roads – which make up just 3 per cent of all total roads.
Tett continued: “It is becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds again last year despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our crumbling roads. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how they use this diminishing funding pot but they remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave them able to patch up our deteriorating roads.
“Councils share the frustration of motorists having to pay to drive on roads that are often inadequate. Our polling has shown 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.
“Our roads crisis is only going to get worse unless we address it as a national priority. The Government’s own traffic projections predict a potential increase in local traffic of up to 55% by 2040. Councils desperately need long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade.
“Motorists pay billions to the Treasury each year in fuel duty when they fill up their car at the pumps only to then have to drive on roads that are decaying after decades of underfunding. They deserve roads fit for the 21st century.”
Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), said: “Prolonged under investment, coupled with wetter winters, increased traffic and an ageing network, means that the resilience of our local roads is at a low point. Clearing the maintenance backlog is impossible without a significant increase in funding.
“The fact remains that our local road network receives only a fraction of the funding allocated to the Strategic Road Network (SRN) and this disparity needs to be tackled proactively if further decline is to be prevented.
“Reallocating a few pence from existing fuel duty might prove an equitable way of turning the tide, as could previous calls for Vehicle Excise Duty to be redirected to local roads from 2021. Either way, the LGA is right that time is running out and that local roads maintenance should now be a national priority.”
Geoff Allister, executive director of the Highways Term Maintenance Association (HTMA), said: “HTMA is well aware of the poor condition of many local roads and the disparity in funding approaches between the local and strategic road networks, and would welcome additional investment to improve the condition of this valuable national asset.
“HTMA has called for a longer term, five-year minimum, investment strategy, similar to the Roads Investment Strategy, to be developed for the local highways network. The certainty and transparency of funding within such a strategy would give companies and their supply chain the confidence to invest in people, plant and equipment, and to develop longer term supplier relationships that would result in increased efficiencies.”
“It is important that in such a strategy an appropriate balance is struck between the need to adequately maintain the entirety of the existing asset with the desire for new roads infrastructure. In addition, a long-term asset management approach should be implemented so that inefficient and short term repairs are reduced and the limited resources allocated to highways maintenance make the best use of public money.”
Richard Hayes, chief executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), told Highways Magazine: “The message from the LGA highlights the problem full stop. When are highway authorities going to stop counting potholes and grasp the message that without a strong asset management strategy simply filling more potholes will do nothing to improve the condition of the roads?
“Such plans can readily make a strong case for sound investment which will deliver dividends in the longer term. Yes investment is needed but it should be made on the overall benefit to the economy. We keep pushing the same message but are failing to convince politicians who often would rather invest in vote catching projects rather than long term asset management.”
RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes said: “This analysis provides a stark reminder of the dire state of the UK’s local road network and ominously shows that things look set to get worse over the coming years unless urgent action is taken. The RAC’s Pothole Index revealed that the number of pothole-related breakdowns attended by our patrols doubled between 2006 and 2016, leaving motorists with a large repair bill. Typically, this included damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels.
“Most journeys begin and end on a local road so good quality local roads are essential for motorists and businesses alike. Poorly maintained roads are not only expensive and frustrating, they also pose a safety risk for cyclists and motorists, with some cyclists forced to swerve to avoid potholes.
“The RAC’s 2016 Report on Motoring revealed the condition and maintenance of local roads was the issue of top overall concern for motorists and a recent RAC survey showed there is overwhelming support (92%) for the ringfencing of some motoring-related taxation to go towards improving the condition of local roads. We would urge the Government to take a long-term, strategic approach to tackling this crisis, which provides local authorities with greater funding certainty so they can undertake the necessary maintenance and preventative action.”