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Road maintenance funding system “ludicrous”, say MPs

Cost-effectively maintaining roads under the current funding system is difficult to achieve, an influential group of MPs has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Department for Transport for cutting the roads budget, then making emergency cash injections to deal with problems such as flooding.

“The department’s unpredictable and fluctuating budgets for road maintenance over decades have put value for money at risk”, said committee chairman Labour MP Margaret Hodge.

Public satisfaction with the state of English roads was at its lowest level since 2008, she said.

Hodge described as “ludicrous” the decision to cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2bn over the four years from April 2011, but then provide £1.1bn of additional funding on nine separate occasions for reasons including flooding and winter damage to the roads.

Compensation claims for damage arising from poor road conditions cost £31.6m in 2013/14, the committee said. Potholes cost £52 each to fill in, it added.

Lobby groups welcomed the report.

Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), said: “For many years CECA has highlighted the need for greater visibility and certainty of funding for maintenance, strategically managing roads rather than patching up problems as they arise. We welcome the recommendations in today’s report which, if implemented, should deliver better value and better roads.”

Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) chairman Alan Mackenzie said: “After many years of chronic underfunding, the local road network is in a parlous state and in desperate need of further up-front investment, which would enable local authorities to commission more planned preventative maintenance.

“We welcome this report and agree that more should be done to encourage a greater focus on planned preventative road maintenance, which is not only more cost-efficient in the long-term (reactive maintenance is 20 times more expensive on a per square metre basis than preventative maintenance), but also helps prevent potholes appearing and can extend the working life of those roads.”

Peter Box, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “Decades of underfunding by Whitehall and recent severe winters have left large swathes of our roads in disrepair.

“As the committee rightly recognises, this is leaving councils trapped in an endless cycle of only being able to patch up our deteriorating network. Councils need increased and consistent funding.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it was “absolutely committed to tackling potholes on local roads”.

It said it encouraged councils to undertake more planned preventative maintenance and “to be more efficient in how they tackle problems”.

“We have committed to spending £24bn on our strategic road network up to 2021 - the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s - and we are reforming roads funding so that it is stable and guaranteed,” the DfT statement added.

However, it said it would “make no apology for responding to unforeseen circumstances, such as the additional £180M provided to help councils deal with damage caused by severe weather.”

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