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Ring fence roads cash for maintenance work

Ring fencing 2p per litre of fuel duty for road repairs would allow councils to significantly cut the highway maintenance backlog within a decade, town hall bosses said this week.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said ring fencing this cash would allow the government to inject a further £1bn a year into roads maintenance. The LGA represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.

Fuel duty has been 57.95p per litre since March 2011. This revenue contributes more than £33bn a year to the Treasury.

The government last month responded to calls from local authorities for extra funding to repair roads badly hit by recent harsh winters by earmarking £168M for pothole repairs. This is on top of an extra £103.5M offered to flood-affected councils for road repairs in March

But the LGA said this cash was not enough to tackle decades of underfunding by successive governments. The national road maintenance backlog increased by £1.5bn to £12bn in the past year alone.

LGA economy and transport board chair Peter Box said the underfunding “traps” councils in a cycle of only being able to patch up deteriorating roads. This is more expensive than longer-term preventative maintenance.

“Councils are fixing around 2M potholes each year, despite funding cuts and multi-million pound compensation costs for pothole damage, but are trapped in an endless cycle of patching up our deteriorating network,” said Box. “Reinvesting a small proportion of fuel duty would allow councils to bring our roads up to scratch over the next decade.”

Maintenance backlog soars

The one-off cost of repairing all roads would be £12bn, up from £10.5bn in 2012, according to the 2014 Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey, an annual survey of council highways bosses in England and Wales.

The survey also found that 18% of English roads are now classed as being in poor condition with the figure rising to 19% in London.
Other findings were:

  • The average English local authority faces a £90M estimated one off cost to brings its road up to a reasonable condition
  • Councils paid out £31M in compensation to owners of vehicles damaged by potholes last year, 50% more than in 2011.
  • The average estimated amount of damage incurred by each English council by the floods was £1.6M. Local authorities fixed 2M potholes in 2013.

Box said that without such sustained investment the condition of Britain’s roads will deteriorate rapidly.

“The country is sleep-waking into a roads crisis that is escalating at an alarming pace. It will only get worse with the government’s own traffic projections predicting a potential increase in local traffic of more than 40% by 2040.

“Long-term and consistent investment and better use of motoring taxation is now desperately needed to allow councils to provide widespread improvement of our roads,” he said.

Mouchel director of public services Matthew Lugg applauded the LGA’s call.

“Local roads are deteriorating and deteriorating fast,” he told NCE. “If PFI funding is not available to us anymore, we need some other form of funding mechanism and so hypothecating fuel duty income is a good idea.”

Last month Lugg made a similar call in response to a report by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office. The report warns that the unpredictability of road maintenance funding was undermining efforts to get value for money for repair work.

The watchdog urged the government to address the barriers to long-term road maintenance expenditure planning, particularly on local routes.

Lugg told NCE that while the government intended to reform the way trunk roads were maintained, it risked missing the wider problem.

Between 2015/16 and 2020/21 the government will spend £6bn on maintaining the strategic road network which represents 2% of roads carrying a third of all traffic. Over the same period the government will spend £5.8bn on maintaining and improving the other 98% of local authority roads, which carry two thirds of traffic.

“Ninety-eight per cent of UK roads are local roads,” said Lugg. “The revenue local authorities have for these is so fickle that they don’t know what the funding will be.

“Fuel and vehicle tax should go straight to road maintenance - the more you use your car, the more you damage the road. This would give more long-term certainty of funding.”

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