Category Archives: RSTA News

LOCAL COUNCILS WILL HAVE EVEN LESS MONEY FOR ESSENTIAL ROAD MAINTENANCE

The severe funding pressures being faced by local government will mean even less money for essential maintenance and repair of the local road network warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA)

RSTA’s warning comes as a new report was launched by the Local Government Association (LGA) at its annual conference. The report shows that by 2020 local authorities will have faced a reduction in core funding of nearly £16 billion since 2010 and that by 2025 councils in England will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion

“This funding gap could have serious consequences for spending on the local road network”, warned Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “For decades there has been a lack of investment in local road maintenance. With continued budget restrictions local authorities are having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and are cutting back on highway expenditure in order to fund other council services

Local highway authorities are working hard to address the problem and last year, according to the LGA, they repaired a pothole every 15 seconds. However, they are playing a never-ending catch-up game that is made worse by ongoing budget cuts. Without a significant increase in local government funding our roads will go from bad to worse.

Robinson believes that as the road network is the country’s most important infrastructure asset it should have a realistic level of investment that is ring-fenced for spending on highways maintenance: “Highway budgets should not be dipped into to fund other council services. We need to have real, long-term assured funding that allows highway authorities to undertake planed, cost efficient programme of maintenance and not expensive emergency repairs.”

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the situation. These include allowing all local roads to receive funds from the Vehicle Excise Duty. Currently, the monies raised are only available for motorways and A roads. It addition, up to £1 billion a year could be found to address the £9.3 billion backlog of local road pothole repairs by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Furthermore, local highway budgets should be ring-fenced to prevent their being used to fund other council services.

WHY ARE OUR ROADS MELTING?

June’s heatwave has seen temperatures topping 30C in many parts of the country. This has caused some roads to melt. With the Met Office predicting that temperatures for July and August could be hotter than average more roads could find that more road surfaces are getting soft and sticky.

Most roads will not begin to soften until they hit a temperature of around 50C. However, even a sunny day in the 20Cs can be enough to generate 50C on the ground as the dark asphalt road surface absorbs a lot of heat and this builds up during the day with the hottest period between noon and 5pm. With temperatures regularly reaching the high 20Cs, the bitumen in some road surfaces may soften and rise to the top. This makes the road surface sticky and more susceptible to pressure loads from heavy vehicles resulting in surface ridging and rutting.

The response from local highway authorities is to send out the gritters to spread granite dust to absorb the soft bitumen and so stabilise the road surface and make it less sticky.

“Drivers may be bemused to see the gritters out in the summer when they are usually spreading grit and salt during the winter”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association. “However, this is effective standard practice for keeping a road surface safe during extreme prolonged hot temperatures.”

He continued: “Asphalt is a bit like chocolate – it melts and softens when it’s hot and goes hard and brittle when it’s cold – it doesn’t maintain the same strength all year round.”

Following a heatwave in 1995, the road industry introduced a new asphalt specification introducing the use of polymer modified binders in hot rolled asphalt (HRA). These polymers raise the asphalt road surface softening point to around 80C which prevents it from softening under extreme hot weather. Other asphalt products such as thin surface course systems also normally contain polymer modified binders.

However, such modified asphalts tend to be more expensive and are generally only used on heavily-trafficked roads. Robinson estimates that less than 5% of all the UK’s road surfaces contain polymer modified asphalt. On the other hand most surface dressings which are used to seal road surfaces and restore skid resistance nowadays predominantly contain polymer modified binders which will resist softening during periods of hot weather.

“Localised melting of some roads is not surprising during this heatwave, but they can be quickly treated and revert back to normal once temperatures decline,” said Robinson.

ADDITIONAL POTHOLE REPAIR FUNDING TOO LITTLE AND TOO LATE

Whilst welcoming the additional £100million pothole funding to help repair roads suffering from  this year’s severe winter, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) believes that in reality it is ‘too little too late’.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has provided the funding following the freeze and thaw of the ‘Beast from the East’ that caused significant damage to the condition of the local road network, which due to the lack of investment in ongoing programmed maintenance, is in a poor state of repair. The extra funding is for English councils only as funding for road maintenance in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is the responsibility of their devolved governments

“Any additional funding to address the overall poor condition of our local road network is to be welcomed”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “However, it is only a short-term fix for quick patching up of potholes. It does nothing to address the £9.3 billion necessary to bring our road network up to a decent standard. It does nothing to address the fact that one-in-five of our local roads are predicted to structurally fail within the next five years according to the recent ALARM survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance.”

He continued: “The fundamental problem is that councils do not have the long-term funding to undertake comprehensive maintenance. Well maintained roads will perform better during extreme weather.

Robinson pointed out that the government needs to understand that proper long-term preventative maintenance offers far better value than short-term patch-and-mend. He said: “Whilst pothole repairs will always be necessary, it costs upwards of £2 m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs on average £54 m2 to repair potholes. “Providing local authorities with the right level of funding in the first to place to enable them to properly maintain the road network would be more cost effective than emergency ad hoc pothole funding,” he said.

THE GREAT MOTORISTS’ RIP-OFF

Motorists provide the Treasury with over £50 billion every year in taxation yet only £2 billion of that is invested into maintaining the local road network. The impact of the lack of investment is a deteriorating road network that costs motorists a further £1.7 billion a year in repair bills due to the damage caused by potholes.

“The amount of taxation paid by motorists dwarfs the amount spent on local road maintenance and then they spend almost another £2 billion on repairing the vehicle damage caused by the road network that they are funding. Motorists have long felt that they are ‘cash cows’ but these figures show that they are being ripped-off”, said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

According to the RAC Foundation, the £50 billion motorists’ tax bill includes a combination of Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty – some £6 billion and £28 billion was raised in 2016 – plus £12.2 billion on buying, running and using their vehicles (£3.84 billion of VAT on vehicle purchases, £5.64 billion of VAT of fuels and £2.72 billion of VAT raised through road users buying other motoring-related goods and services. In addition, £3.7 billion is raised by motorists being taxed for the use of company cars and the car insurance premium tax raises an annual £560 million a year.

Despite receiving this substantial tax income, the government only spends a fraction of that amount in ensuring that the local road network is in good condition. The lack of investment means that the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey reports that one-in-five roads could structurally fail within the next five years and that an immediate £9.3 billion is needed to bring the local road network up to a satisfactory condition.

The impact of deteriorating road surfaces is underlined by a new survey from WhoCanFixMyCar.com that calculated drivers spend £1.7 billion on vehicle repairs caused by potholes.

RSTA is calling for a number of actions to address the situation. These include allowing all local roads to receive funds from Vehicle Excise Duty. Currently, the monies raised are only available for motorways and A roads. Inject £1 billion a year to address the £9.3 billion backlog of local road pothole repairs by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty. Furthermore, local highway budgets should be ring-fenced. 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.

RSTA CONFERENCE CALLS FOR PROPER RECOGNITION OF ‘CINDERELLA’ LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

A vibrant national economy needs a well-maintained local road network. The presenters and delegates at the recent RSTA industry conference were agreed. The issue is how to convince the government in its Westminster bubble that the Cinderella of the UK transport system should go to the Ball?

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation, opened the conference by describing the local road network as ‘the Cinderella’ of the UK transport system. It does all of the work but receives far less than it deserves. He cited the National Travel Survey England 2016 which reported that road travel (including car, bus and cycling) accounted for 69% of all journeys undertaken and a total of 83% of all travelled distance. Despite the overwhelming preference for road transportation the latest ALARM survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance reported a shortfall of £9.31 billion and a necessary 14 years to address the backlog of potholes and bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard. “What is really worrying about the latest survey’s findings is that 24,000 miles of local roads will need repairing next year and one-in-five local roads could fail within the next five years”, explained Gooding. “The ALARM survey is not alarming enough. It’s all too easy for those in Westminster to lose sight that the local road network is the public sector’s most important asset. For those outside the Westminster bubble, for the two thirds who travel by car to work, the availability of a well-maintained road network is an important issue.” Gooding went on to comment that this is also of concern with local councils.  He pointed to the State of Local Government Finance Survey 2018 which shows that while funding for social care and education is high on the agenda of local authorities maintaining the local road network is not in the top list of their issues to be concerned about. “The fact that road maintenance does not seem to be on their radar is very worrying”, he said.

Unfortunately local road maintenance is not as ‘sexy’ as the ribbon cutting ceremony of some impressive new infrastructure project. Somehow road maintenance needs to raise its image. Gooding wondered if emphasising the business case for a well-maintained road network may help, believing that “the more the business world complains, the more Government may listen and if not the future could see us all having to buy 4×4’s in order to navigate our potholed, rutted roads.”

Business is fully aware of the negative impact of the poor state of the road network. Chris Richards, Head of Business Environment at EEF, reported that it was the number one challenge for its members who are calling for “a resilient network providing reliability of journeys for staff and deliveries”. EEF members report that over the last two years the deterioration of the road network has got worse. Richards also focused on the ALARM survey findings that 20% of local roads risk failure in five years. This is of particular concern to those 25% of businesses in a rural local location for whom a well-maintained road network is vital.

He called for the Government to recognise the economic importance of the local road network: “The Government must realise that a well-maintained local road network is an ‘economic enabler’.” A way forward could be taking more funding decisions away from the Westminster bubble and developing more funding streams at a local level. Richards believed that devolution could see local authorities adopting a more strategic approach resulting in better local governance at a local level.

The view from local authorities was provided by Simon Neilson, President of ADEPT and Executive Director – Economy and Environment, Walsall Council. He underlined the role of ADEPT to bring together local authorities, private partnerships and local enterprise organisations to forward issues to government and, touching on the Cinderella theme, called for local roads to have much more prominence particularly in the digital smart debate where innovation can prove that local roads can be much more than just local roads. The need for greater prominence is demonstrated by the Government proposals for the creation of a Major Road Network. Whilst welcoming the recognition of the national importance of strategic local A roads, Neilson pointed out that the proposal overlooks the majority of the local road network and its role in linking together the strategic road network. “The creation and funding of a Major Road Network is to be welcomed”, said Neilson, “But the Government should acknowledge the important role that the local road network has for the national economy. Government needs to include in its Industrial Strategy – its plan to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK – the provision of a well-maintained local road network”.

Interestingly, Neilson welcomed one aspect of the Government austerity programme. “Austerity has helped to focus attention on how to get the best results in the best way”, he said. However, he deplored the obsession with competitive bidding for funding calling it “a waste of resources particularly when ultimately funding is a political decision”.

The final speaker, Angus Bodie, Programme Manager of the Scottish Roads Collaboration Programme, also saw some benefit in austerity as it has resulted in greater collaboration and sharing of resources plus it has “focused on how to deliver efficiently managed roads and identify opportunities”. However, much of this focus is due to necessity with Bodie reporting that in Scotland there has been a 60% reduction in local road maintenance budgets over the last ten years. The subsequent deterioration in the road network has not gone unnoticed with the latest Customer Experience Survey finding that 76% of respondents were dissatisfied with the road network and 68% saying that it has got worse over the last two years.

Believing that the public does not differentiate between the governance and funding of strategic and local roads and that “a road is a road”, Bodie called for the rationalisation of road governance which in Scotland is shared between 32 local road authorities, one national road authority and seven regional transport partners. He also called for ring fencing of road funding possibly by statute devolution. Supporting that call was the fact that the Customer Experience Survey found 28% of respondents ready to pay more tax for better road maintenance.

The resulting Q&A session saw further reference to the Cinderella analogy with delegates wondering if local road maintenance would ever be given a ‘glass slipper’ and if so by what Prince Charming. Prince Charming was certainly not felt to be national government but maybe the new city mayors could be persuaded to come to the ball. However, whoever the Prince Charming is for increased maintenance funding it was agreed that the Cinderella local road network needs to get out of the kitchen and prove that real investment in maintenance is good for road safety, for the economy and for the environment.

NEW FORD SAFETY FEATURES ARE A SAD INDICTMENT OF LOCAL ROAD NETWORK

The launch of the new fourth-generation Ford Focus with technology designed to cope with Britain’s increasingly potholed roads is a sad indictment of the deteriorating state of the local road network. 

The new Focus has a range of new anti-pothole features including a new chassis, independent rear suspension and an innovative continuously controlled damping (CCD) system. Every two milliseconds sensors monitor and adjust the car’s suspension, body, steering and braking to ensure a smooth ride especially over badly maintained roads. Launching the new model this week Ford explained: “The technology helps reduce the impact of driving through potholes, by detecting the edge of a pothole and adjusting the damper so that the wheel doesn’t fall as far into it. Because the tyre and wheel don’t drop as far, they don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly. The rear suspension can respond even faster, with a signal from the front wheel providing a pre-warning to the rear wheel well before it reaches the pothole.” 

The CCD system is one of a number of new safety features including speed-sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, automatic lane centring and parking assistance. 

Whilst welcoming the new CCD safety feature, Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) said: “It is a sad indictment of the state of our roads that a car manufacturer makes a selling point of anti-pothole safety technology. Unfortunately, the evidence of decades of under-investment in maintaining the local road network and the need for such safety features is very apparent.” 

The RAC has reported that its patrols attended 11% more breakdowns that could be attributed to potholes in the last quarter of 2017 compared to that of 2016.  A total of 2,380 RAC member breakdowns were due to potholed damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels. Meanwhile, the latest AA-Populus poll of 21,000 drivers found that 52% have had their vehicles damaged as a result of poor road conditions in recent years. Worrying, 85% of those polled say that shoddy roads make them worry about their safety when behind the wheel. 

Also of concern is the high cost to cash strapped local authorities. A series of Freedom of Information requests sent to local authorities by the charity Cycling UK found that English local authorities have paid out £43.3 million in pothole compensation over five years. 

“Ford are to be commended on their new safety features”, said Robinson, “However, it is worrying that our deteriorating local road network make them so necessary.”

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/