Another severe winter could lead to parts of Britain’s local road network becoming unusable, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.
As well as frustrating motorists the nation’s crumbling carriageways are also undermining economic recovery and costing small businesses £5 billion a year. Without extra government funding to pay for desperately needed resurfacing more severe weather could bring parts of the country to its knees.
Last year council highways teams fixed 2.2 million potholes, 500,000 more than the year before. However, despite these efforts the backlog of repairs is growing longer, now estimated at £10.5 billion with one-in-five roads classed as being in ‘poor condition’.
Alongside decades of underinvestment from Government, the key factor is recent freezing weather and flooding which has caused an estimated £1 billion damage. Further severe weather could now lead to a tipping point in many areas where roads will become so damaged they will have to close.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils across England and Wales, is calling on Government to provide greater capital funding for road maintenance to turn around the spiralling decline. It has written to Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury, asking him to begin this process in next week’s spending review.
Council spending on road maintenance has consistently been twice what the Department for Transport gives them to cover the cost, the remainder having to be made up from their own general budget. This arrangement has barely covered ongoing upkeep and even this is now at risk because of a 19% cut to the DfT grant and the 33% cut to general funding.
The average English council was about £6.2 million short of what it needed to properly maintain its roads last year, up from £5.3 million in 2011. Compounding matters is the growing cost of compensation to drivers whose vehicles get damaged by potholes. Councils paid out £32 million, 50% more than 2011.
Cllr Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, said: “The case for proper funding to resurface our roads is a no-brainer. The short-termist approach of successive governments of underfunding local road maintenance, coupled with severe weather over recent years, has taken its toll. Now we’re facing unprecedented budget cuts things are only getting worse, something plain for all drivers to see.
“Despite their best efforts many councils are trapped in a false economy of reactive repairs while managing a spiralling compensation bill, all the time praying it doesn’t flood or freeze. Government cutting funding for roads is a very high risk strategy as the longer you keep simply patching up a deteriorating surface the more vulnerable it becomes to severe weather. Unless something changes we risk swathes of Britain’s road network becoming dangerously strewn with potholes or collapsing completely.
“Councils need increased and consistent funding to invest in the widespread resurfacing projects which our network desperately needs if we’re to see a long-term improvement. Notions that this can be paid for by council efficiency savings and smarter use of money are deeply unrealistic. We know we’re in very tough economic times, but there are several potential sources of funding government could explore.
“Redirecting funding into road resurfacing would also offer an instant boost to growth. 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.”