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Councils repairing potholes every 17 seconds but £10bn funding black hole remains

Despite local authorities reporting that, on average, 55% of their average annual highway maintenance is spent on carriageways, councils still need to spend a total of £9.79 billion over 10 years to bring roads “up to scratch”.

The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), is now in its 24th year and is widely regarded as the most authoritative and comprehensive study into local road maintenance funding and condition.

The survey reveals that 1.86 million potholes were filled in during 2018/19 compared with 1.53 million in the previous 12 months. While highway maintenance budgets have increased from an average of £20.6 million to £24.5 million year-on-year.

Despite the rise in funding, the AIA chairman Rick Green notes the “big discrepancy between the haves and have nots” with some local authorities receiving the equivalent of more than £90,000 per mile for their networks, but others having less than £9,000 per mile to maintain their local roads.  

“Achieving target conditions on all categories of local roads – those that we all rely on every day – still remains out of reach,” the chair added. “To put this into context, if local authorities had enough funds to meet their own targets across all road types it would give us more than 20,000 miles of improved local roads. With the amount needed to bring the local road network up to scratch still approaching £10bn, sustained investment over a longer timeframe is needed if we want a local road network that supports enhanced mobility, connectivity and productivity.”

Despite facing unprecedented severe financial pressures, the survey shows councils across England and Wales have still managed to spend more on road repairs in the past year in order to fix a pothole every 17 seconds.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes believes long-term funding certainty is vital for effective maintenance and this could be done by ring-fencing existing funds raised from fuel duty - just two pence per litre collected over five years which would raise nearly £5bn.

“The results from this year’s survey chimes with our own breakdown data, which suggests the overall state of the UK’s roads is not getting any worse,” Lyes said. “But this is hardly positive – it remains the case that a driver today is still more than twice as likely to breakdown as a result of a pothole than in 2006.”

Paul Fleetham, managing director of Tarmac Contracting, said although it was encouraging that local authority highways budgets have increased for the second consecutive year, solutions were needed to bring the one-time cost down to improve UK roads.

Fleetham said: “There is a clear opportunity to focus on a longer-term, proactive approach to local roads funding which recognises the social value of the local road network and supports the delivery of proper preventative and structural maintenance strategies for this vital asset.”