Councils calling for cash to solve local roads crisis


The Local Government Association (LGA) has submitted a call for government to inject a further £1 billion a year into local road maintenance to solve a crisis of deteriorating council road networks. This could be achieved by ringfencing just 2p per litre of existing fuel duty for local roads funding, but should not be paid for by increasing fuel duty rates, the LGA says.

Figures published this year show that current rates of investment are still failing to arrest the deteriorating condition of local roads networks in England and Wales. New analysis published by the LGA shows that the time it would take to clear the backlog of road repairs has increased from an estimated 10.9 years in 2006, to 14 years today. This comes after the Asphalt Industry Alliance's (AIA) 2016 ALARM survey, published in March, revealed that it would now cost £12 billion to clear the backlog – up from £11 billion in 2015. The average English local authority faces an estimated one-off cost of £69m to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition, the ALARM survey found.

The LGA's appeal for more local roads funding has been included in the organisation's Autumn Statement Submission to government. The Department for Transport has increased capital spending allocations for local authorities over the next five years – providing they can demonstrate they have sound principles of fiscal control through asset management principles. But levels of revenue spending for routine maintenance, allocated through the Department for Communities and Local Government, and which are generally not ringfenced for roads by local authorities, have undergone austerity cuts of up to 25% since 2010. Many local highway departments are now feeling the full affect of these cuts.

According to the LGA, a poll has shown that 83% of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay in fuel duty being invested to improve road condition. 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 3% of the total network – contrasting with the £27,000 per mile investment in maintaining roads controlled by councils.

The LGA's transport spokesman, councillor Martin Tett, said: "It is becoming increasingly urgent to address the roads crisis we face as a nation. Our roads are deteriorating fast and it would take almost £12 billion, and it could be nearly 2030, before we could bring them up to scratch and clear the current roads repair backlog.

"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.

"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 needs over the next decade."

The Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce his Autumn Statement later this month. It is rumoured that he is poised to announce more money for local "shovel ready" road projects as a means for stimulating local economies and supply chains. This may not do enough for overall road condition, however.

Chairman of the AIA, Alan Mackenzie, said: “The link between infrastructure investment and economic growth is well established but long term underfunding means that the local road network continues to deteriorate at a faster rate than it can be repaired.

“Ten years ago, our ALARM survey warned against putting off the investment needed today until tomorrow. Local authority highways engineers told us then that it would take 10.9 years to get their roads back into a reasonable condition. This year, they told us the backlog was 14 years.   

“The age of the network and the increased volume and weight of vehicles – not to mention the effect of wetter winters – threatens the resilience our roads. Unless action is taken, we face the real prospect of a local road network that is not fit for purpose.”