Civil engineers have called for a rethink of pothole repair funding after a new analysis by motorists body the RAC claimed the quality of Britain’s roads had “deteriorated substantially” over the past decade.
The study compared the percentage share of the RAC’s pothole-related breakdowns to all other types of call-out, factoring in historic rainfall and frost data. It revealed a 125% increase from 2006 to 2016 in the proportion of vehicle breakdowns where poor road surfaces were likely to have been a contributory factor.
Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Caca) head of external affairs Marie-Claude Hemming said in response to the study: “There is an increasing backlog of work needed to fix potholes and we believe that this must now trigger an urgent rethink of the way the repairs are funded.
“Steps taken by the government to address the problem such as the £250M Pothole Action Fund to fix over 4M potholes by 2020/21 are welcome, but there is a need for a new funding model to tackle highway maintenance once and for all.
“At a time when money is tight we need to ensure there is enough money for highways maintenance alongside other major infrastructure projects. To this end, Ceca has proposed wider use of prudential borrowing, while consideration should also be given to private finance models and the targeted use of local authority reserves.”
RAC chief engineer David Bizley said the results show that injections of short-term funding fail to address the underlying problem.
“The government has taken bold steps in recent times to ensure that the strategic road network in England (major A-roads and motorways) is fit for purpose and capable of supporting economic growth,” he said. “The government has a Road Investment Strategy and has announced plans to create a Roads Fund by ring-fencing vehicle excise duty to fund future development and maintenance of major roads. However, the majority of the damage our members have suffered has been when using local roads.
“It is clear that the effects of insufficient investment over much of the last decade are going to take some considerable time to rectify. Most journeys start or finish on local roads even if the bulk of the mileage is on the strategic road network, or by rail, sea or air. Without local roads that are fit for purpose, the benefits of the government’s bold investment in national transport infrastructure may never be fully realised.
“Bold and imaginative action is now required to address the underlying deficiencies in local roads. Existing funding arrangements are complex with central and local government sharing the cost. Whilst £6bn has been allocated by the Department for Transport for the period 2015-2020 for local road maintenance and development, and further funding is available through the Local Growth Fund, the RAC would like to see local roads given the same priority and treated as a strategic asset.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Well-maintained local roads are incredibly important, to deliver better journeys and keep communities across the country moving and connected.
“We have committed £6bn to councils in England over this parliament to improve local roads and through the Pothole Action Fund, we will spend a further £250M over the next five years specifically to tackle the blight of potholes.”