Underfunding, severe weather and increased traffic are relentlessly undermining the resilience of the local road network in England and Wales, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance.
The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, published by the Alliance, paints an unsettling picture and indicates that further decline lies ahead for our local roads.
Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the Alliance, said: “The network is ageing and the cumulative effect of decades of underfunding is continuing to take its toll. Add in the impacts of flooding and increased traffic and you start to appreciate the scale of the problem our local authorities are facing.”
Despite the government’s commitment to £6 billion of funding for local road maintenance between 2015 and 2021, highways departments in England are yet to feel the benefit and report that overall budgets have dropped by 16 per cent.
This is reflected in the increase in average budget shortfalls – the difference between the money highways teams need to keep the carriageway in reasonable order and the amount they actually receive – which has risen by almost 50 per cent (from £3.2 million last year to £4.6 million this).
The number of potholes filled over the last year has dropped, but is still worryingly high at over 2 million. A third of respondents had to cope with unforeseen costs (primarily due to adverse weather), but there was a reduction in the average additional costs incurred, perhaps as a result of a relatively mild winter.
The amount local authorities need to bring their roads up to scratch, however, remains fairly static – although still significant at almost £12 billion – indicating that highways teams are doing more with less as a result of improved efficiencies.
“Local authorities continue to face increasing pressure on resources but now have better processes and a more focused preventative approach,” said Alan Mackenzie. “The adoption of highways asset management plans for example is allowing them to work smarter with less money.
“However, our roads are deteriorating at a faster rate than they can be repaired and more significant problems for the future are building unseen below the surface.
“It is clear that there is still not enough money available to tackle the backlog of repairs needed to get our road network back into anything approaching a reasonable condition.”