Author Archives: Kathy McCracken

POTHOLES: FROM LOCAL PROBLEM TO NATIONAL DISGRACE

On the fourth annual National Pothole Day, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has declared that decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network means that potholes have gone from being just a local problem to being a national disgrace.

“Decades of government under-funding has deprived local councils from having the resources to carry out comprehensive planned maintenance. Instead, we have inefficient patch-and-mend of a never-ending pothole plague where hard-pressed councils take one step forward and two steps back,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The cumulative impact of the potholes in your local area has significant national social and economic consequences that government would do well to take note of.”

Nationally, according to the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, the lack of investment in road maintenance means that it would cost £12.06 billion and take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes in England and nine years in Wales.

Such is the extent of the problem that although last year local highway authorities repaired 1.7 million potholes – one every 19 seconds – the RAC reported that between January and March 2017 it dealt with a 63% increase in pothole-related breakdowns such as broken suspension springs, damaged shock absorbers or distorted wheels. The national cost of these breakdowns is high with the Tax Payers’ Alliance calculating that annually local authorities pay out over £8 million in compensation claims for road-surface related vehicle damage. This is money that councils can ill-afford.

“It is not just the personal cost of potholes, it is also the cost to the national economy,” warns Robinson. “At a time when post-Brexit, the government wants to show that Britain is open for business the very transport system that carries 97% of our traffic is well below the standard of our chief European competitors.”

According to the latest World Economic Global Competitiveness Index 2017-18, our road network is rated 27th compared with 7th for France, 8th for Portugal, 15th for Germany and 16th for Spain. Indeed, the standard of the UK’s roads is only just above that of Namibia rated 31st and Rwanda rated 32nd.

“National Pothole Day puts the focus on a local problem that is fast becoming a national disgrace. After years of trying to ignore the extent of the problem the government needs to wake-up and provide real levels of assured funding for local road maintenance”, said Robinson.

CYCLING FUNDING FAILS TO ADDRESS FUNDAMENTAL SAFETY ISSUE

Government proposals of £7million funding for new bike-friendly areas fail to address a fundamental issue of cycling road safety: potholes and deteriorating road surfaces reports the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

“The government’s own figures state that 100 cyclists a year are killed or seriously injured due to accidents caused by poor or defective road surfaces. This is the issue that needs to be addressed”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Under the proposals the government will provide £6.5 million funding for a range of projects to improve road safety and help create more bike-friendly areas in 8 cities including Bristol, Leeds, Cambridge, Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford. In addition, it will also provide £0.5 million to support the Cycling UK Big Bike initiative to get more people cycling safely.

“Cyclists are amongst our more vulnerable road users. For them, the continued deterioration of local road surfaces can result in death or serious, life-changing injuries”, said Robinson. “Initiatives to get more people cycling are to be welcomed but the government needs to invest in the provision of a well-maintained road network that is safe to for them to use.”

Robinson points to the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey that found to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition would cost over £12.06 billion and it would take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes. Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) the survey found that such is the rate of deterioration a sixth of local roads could be unusable within five years.

“Before making headline grabbing announcements the government should provide real levels of investment in road maintenance to ensure that cyclists have a safe road surface to cycle on”, said Robinson.

SCOTTISH ROAD MAINTENANCE FUNDING DROPS BY 20%

A new report on Scottish local authority finances has found that continued budget restriction has resulted in 20% reduction in spending on road maintenance. The research was compiled by the Local Government Benchmarking Framework (LGBF) that brings together annual data on Scottish councils’ performance.

The significant fall underlines the problem of ongoing cuts to local government funding that are forcing councils to raid highway budgets in order to fund their social care responsibilities. The LGBF research shows that overall government funding for Scottish councils has fallen by 7.6% in real terms, from £10.5bn to £9.7bn.

The latest findings follows calculations from the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS) that the existing backlog of repairs to Scotland’s road networks is valued at £1.6bn.

Despite the drop in funding, the LGBF report found a “slight improvement” in the overall condition of Scottish roads. Over the last year C class and unclassified roads have improved, B roads have remained constant and ‘A’ roads continue to decline. This is attributed to improvements in efficiency and innovation.

Commenting on the report, Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) said: “The local road network is a council’s most important asset yet they are forced to ransack their highways budget to fund other services. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the best way forward.

Whilst there has been a slight improvement in road conditions, the size of the £1.6bn backlog of pothole repairs together with ever increasing traffic demands means that the condition of the road network will continue to cause concern. Efficiency improvements can only go so far without proper investment in road maintenance.”

POTHOLES: THE VITAL STATISTICS

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has published a new and updated compendium of facts and figures behind the UK’s deteriorating local road network together with a range of recommendations to address the issue

Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive said: “‘Potholes: the vital statistics’ is a sad indictment of the failure by successive governments to properly invest in a well-maintained local road network. To put it in context, the combined spend of local authorities on local road maintenance amounts to just 1% of the estimated replacement cost of the UK’s greatest infrastructure asset.

The 2017 statistics are pulled from a wide range of government and industry sources and they underline the result of decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network

According to the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey it would cost £12.6 billion and take 14 years to fix the current backlog of pothole repairs. This cost has increased from £11.8 billion. Lack of funding has forced one in five local authorities in England to cut their overall highways and transport budgets. More than half have cut spending on road maintenance by an average fall of £900,000. Meanwhile, as the local road network deteriorates, it is expected to carry more and more traffic. Department for Transport statistics show that traffic is at a record high with 325.1 billion vehicle miles travelled in 2017 – an increase of 1.4% over 2016. The local road network showed the largest increase. A-road traffic increased by 1.1%, minor roads were up by 2.1%, motorway traffic increased by 0.9%

Insurers Confused.com have demonstrated the depth of the pothole problem and calculated that when combined the total depth of UK potholes 2017 was 40km. That is almost 4 times deeper than the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench (11,000m)

RSTA argues that a well-maintained local road network is essential to the social and economic well-being of the country. It connects the national motorway and trunk road network, ports and airports and so has an important role in increasing national productivity. “All journeys start and end using the local road network. Government continues to fail to understand the direct correlation between a well-maintained local road network and a prosperous economy,” said Robinson. “Investing in high profile projects is fine but you need the well-maintained infrastructure to connect those projects. There is little point HS2 shaving 40 minutes of the London to Birmingham train journey time if your car is made unroadworthy by a pothole when trying to get to the station.

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the issue of deteriorating local roads. These include Inject an additional £1 billion into road maintenance by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Ring-fence local highway budgets. Starved of funding, by 2020 local councils will spend 60p in every £1 raised by council tax on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance. Above all, no more lip service from national government. There needs to a real understanding of the essential role that the local road network plays in the national social and economic well-being of the country coupled with real meaningful action

“Motorists pay £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. An annual total of £58 billion. These statistics show that they are getting a very poor return for their money, said Robinson

‘Potholes: The Vital Statistics’ is available as a free download from: http://www.rsta-uk.org/pot-holes-vital-statistics/

INVESTMENT IN MAJOR ‘A’ ROADS WELCOMED BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE LOCAL ROAD NETWORK?

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed government proposals to invest in a Major Roads Network that could see £100 million new funding for key local ‘A’ roads but warns that the rest of the local network must not be left to deteriorate still further

Under the proposals 5,000 miles of ‘A’ road will be eligible for new funding from the National Roads Fund for upgrades and improvements. Road projects will be developed by local councils and, where possible, sub-national transport bodies – a regional body which influences funding decisions such as Transport for the North. This is to ensure that they will be designed by local areas to deliver the best solutions for their roads. From 2020 the National Roads Fund will be paid for by Vehicle Excise Duty, which raised about £6 billion last year. Consultation on the proposals will close on 19th March 2018.

Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive, said: “For decades the local road network has suffered from under-investment and, despite the fact that they represent 97% of the UK road network, continue to deteriorate due to insufficient funds to support planned maintenance.

The proposals to increase investment in a network of major ‘A’ roads is welcomed but what of the roads that connect these? Are those ‘A’ roads that are not part of the proposed network and the ‘B’ roads that connect these to be left to deteriorate still further?”

£600 BILLION NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE PIPELINE PUTS CART BEFORE THE HORSE

The announcement by the government that some £600 billion is to be spent on national infrastructure investment is a case of putting “the cart before the horse” believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

The announcement forms the central part of the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline 2017 which provides a programme of projects to be undertaken over the next 10 years. These range from major motorway improvements to increasing rail capacity, from building new towns to redeveloping urban centres.

“The pipeline of national infrastructure projects is very impressive. However, it has a fundamental flaw. It ignores the fact that nearly all journeys begin and end on the local road network which continues to deteriorate due to lack of investment. This means that sparkly new national infrastructure will have to be accessed via potholed, rutted roads”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson points to the 2017 Local Authority Road Maintenance survey (ALARM), published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, that reported to bring the road network up to a reasonable standard would cost £11.8 billion and would take 14 years to complete. Worryingly, the survey also found that overall local highway budgets for road maintenance have fallen by 16%.

“With the majority of all journeys being taken on the local road network, the government should invest to bring this up to scratch first before spending billions on headline grabbing projects,” said Robinson.

Furthermore, that ability must have the flexibility to adapt to every potential different road scenario. “Given the deteriorating condition of much of our road network the vision of fast self-driving autonomous cars will be a reality of slow-moving vehicle convoys forever in ‘proceed with caution’ safety mode. Rather than a smooth, quiet journey, when travelling on many of our roads the self-driving car’s alarm for approaching potholes would be beeping constantly,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Robinson continued: “The future vision the autonomous self-driving car is enticing but it must not overshadow the prosaic reality of a potholed, deteriorating road network that can barely cope with the traffic of today let alone that of tomorrow.”

ADDITIONAL BUDGET POTHOLE FUNDING IS ‘PALTRY’

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has described the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s pledge of an additional £45 million to repair potholes as ‘paltry’. The funding pledge is in the small print of today’s Autumn Statement.

“Although the Department for Transport did announce in January 2017 funding of £1.2 billion for English local roads for the period 2017-18. That does not address the staggering £12 billion necessary to address the current backlog of repairs and potholes and bring the local road network up to an acceptable standard. This additional £45 million is a low paltry figure when set against the annual £58 billion that motorists pay in taxation for the privilege of driving on a deteriorating road network,” said Howard Robinson RSTA chief executive.

The condition of the roads provides a visible indication of the state of a country’s social well being and economic performance. With every road journey starting and ending on a local road the need for have a well-maintained network is paramount. The Autumn Statement states that: “good quality infrastructure is essential for the economy and productivity”, but as Robinson pointed out: “The development of a first class global economy will not happen on a third world road network.

Yet again, we have a chancellor who has failed to address the decades of under-investment in road maintenance. He has demonstrated no understanding that a well-maintained local road network is essential to the national economy.”

COUNCILS FORCED TO RANSACK HIGHWAY BUDGETS TO FUND SOCIAL CARE

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has reacted with concern at the findings of new analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) that by 2020 almost 60p in every £1 that people pay in council tax may have to be spent on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance. This is up from 41p in 2010/11.

The analysis underlines the strain being placed on council’s budgets as they struggle with ever decreasing government funding. By 2020, local government in England will have lost 75 pence out of every £1 of Revenue Support Grant funding that it received from government to spend in 2015. Almost half of all councils – 168 councils – will no longer receive any of this core central government funding by 2019/20.

Government plans to allow local government as a whole to keep all of its business rates income by the end of the decade are in doubt after the Local Government Finance Bill, which was passing through parliament before the election, was not reintroduced in the Queen’s Speech.

“By 2020 it is predicted that only 5p in every pound of council tax will be spent on roads and street-lighting,” warned Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The result will be more poorly maintained roads and more portholes.”

He continued: “Local government in England faces a £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. The Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that enable adequate funding for all areas of council services.

The local road network is a council’s most important asset yet they are forced to ransack their highways budget to fund other services.”

SEVERE WINTER PREDICTIONS BAD NEWS FOR POTHOLED ROADS

Predictions of the worse winter for possibly ten years is bad news for those highway authorities who have failed to carry out the necessary maintenance of their road networks.

The Met Office’s forecast for November to January predicts ‘the risk of colder than normal conditions remains a significant possibility’. This is due to the La Nina phenomenon which was behind the big freeze of November 2010 which saw low temperatures of -13C and snowfalls of 2ft in places during the coldest winter on record for Britain. Weather Action predicts that the second half of November will see temperatures plummet to -10C. Meanwhile, Labrokes is offering 4-1 on the coldest November on record with 4/6 on snowfall before the end of the month.

“An early cold start of winter will have a detrimental impact upon our roads and could result in a record number of potholes, particularly where local authority highway departments have not carried out proper road maintenance programmes”, warned Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Potholes are caused by water or snow freezing in cracks in the road surface. The expansion of ice results in damage and breaking up of the road surface which is made worse by repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Budget constraints mean that many highway authorities are unable to carry out planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.

The significant consequence of not carrying out adequate maintenance is demonstrated by the 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) the survey reports that the cost to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition is over £12 billion and that it would take 13 years to address the backlog of repairs in England and 9 years in Wales.

“The lack of investment in planned maintenance means that in many parts of the country the local road network is not in a fit state to face the impact of a severe extended winter,” pointed out Robinson. “Despite significant budget cuts local authorities are fixing 1.75 million potholes every year. However, only with adequate funding from central government can local authorities undertake the necessary investment in local road long-term maintenance.