If the new Conservative Government really wants to have a positive impact on the socio-economic wellbeing of the country and win votes at the next General Election then it should provide real sustained investment in the maintenance of the road network believes Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
The poor potholed state of many of our roads is of considerable concern to many drivers. With thirty five million drivers in the UK, most with the ability to vote, the government would be well advised to take note of that concern. Of particular concern is that the billions of tax paid by drivers does not seem to go towards funding a better road network. Fuel duty raises an annual £26.9 billion whilst other motoring vehicle excise duties taxes raise another £6.1 billion with a further £25 billion from VAT on fuel and car sales. Despite this there is a £12 billion backlog of road repairs due to decades of under investment. The discrepancy between the amounts taken in road tax fuel duty and the amount spent on road maintenance is not lost on motorists. Recognising the growing anger of motorists the Conservative manifesto for the recent election pledged enough funding to fix around 18 million potholes nationwide between 2015 and 2021. Now that they are in power it is hoped that they fulfil this pledge.
The latest Annual Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey found that despite additional government emergency pothole repair funding and a significant 33% increase in the number of potholes being repaired during 2014 the years of under-investment means that highway authorities are playing a never-ending catch-up game. A major problem is that the additional funding being provided is being spent on expensive reactive repair rather than cost-effective preventative maintenance that would help to prevent the potholes from forming in the first place. It costs just £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £54m2 to repair a pothole.
The government needs to fully recognise the social and economic benefits of a well-maintained road network and work with local highway authorities to develop and implement long-term funding mechanisms that encourage proper programmes of planned maintenance rather than reactive patch-and-mend. As part of this there should be the implementation of analytical mechanisms and economic methodology to assess the costs and benefits of a well maintained road network. The road network is the country’s greatest asset and as such should command appropriate investment.
However, there will continue to be real constraints on core revenue funding with councils being faced with reduced budgets and ever-increasing demands. Here, working with the road maintenance industry they can learn how to achieve more for less. They should also ensure the adoption of the initiatives forwarded by the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) and realise the benefits of asset management. For its part, the road surface industry should continue to further develop best practice and new products that deliver long-term performance and optimum road surface solutions.
The condition of the roads provides a visible indication of the state of a country’s social wellbeing and economic performance. If the government wishes to persuade voters that these are improving then it should invest in a better, well-maintained road network.