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NEW SURVEY FINDS LOCAL ROAD CONDITION GOING FROM BAD TO WORSE

The 2017 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey makes for grim reading. It reports that decades of investment in road maintenance combined with an aging road network and increased traffic levels means that within the next five years one in six of local roads will need significant repair or may even face closure due to their poor condition.

Produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) and based on data supplied by 63 per cent of local authorities responsible for roads in England and Wales, the survey provides a definitive overview of the poor state of the local road network. It reports that the cost to restore the local road network to a satisfactory condition would cost over £12.06 billion and that it would take 13 years to address the backlog of potholes in England and nine years in Wales.

Over the last year local highway authorities repaired 1.7 million potholes – one every 19 seconds –  however,  they are playing a never-ending catch-up game that is exacerbated by ongoing budget cuts.

“It is not just about the provision of a realistic level of investment in what is our most important infrastructure asset. But for that funding to have long-term assurance so that highway authorities can carry out cost planned, cost efficient programmes of maintenance and not expensive emergency repairs,” explained Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Cost-effective maintenance that prevents potholes from forming in the first place surely is the logical financial approach”.

He continued: “Without a significant increase in road maintenance investment the condition of our roads will go from bad to worse. The survey’s finding that a sixth of local roads could be unusable within five years is of considerable concern.”

CHANCELLOR FOLLOWS ROAD MAINTENANCE FAILURE OF HIS PREDECESSORS

“In his Spring Budget Philip Hammond, has failed to address the decades of under-investment in road maintenance,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “His budget has no recognition that a well- maintained and efficient local road network supports the national economy. Instead we have a local road network that is increasingly Third World.”

RSTA has renewed its support of the calls by the Local Government Association to address the decades of under-investment in the local road network by injecting a further £1 billion a year into roads maintenance. The additional funding could be found by investing just 2p per litre of the existing fuel duty without any need to increase fuel duty rates.

The Chancellor announced £690m funding competition for local authorities to tackle congestion and to get local transport networks moving. “Some highway authorities have seen a 50% reduction in their road maintenance budgets. It is a pity that they will have to spend precious resources on competing for funding,” said Robinson.

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 road network up to an acceptable standard.

The £1.2 billion funding includes £210 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund as announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement, £801 million Local Highways Maintenance Funding – Needs Element, £70 million from the Pothole Action fund, £75 million from the Highways Maintenance Challenge Fund where local highway authorities have to compete for funding and a further £75 million from the Highways Maintenance Incentive Element which requires completion of a self-assessment questionnaire ‘in order to reward those who demonstrate they truly understand the value of their asset’.

“It is disappointing that the Chancellor fails to appreciate the social and economic benefits of a well-maintained local road network,” said Robinson. “We note that that from 1 April 2017 vehicle excise duty rates for cars, vans and motorcycles registered before April 2017 will increase by Retail Prices Index (RPI) while VED for HGVs and the Road User Levy rates will be frozen. We call upon the Chancellor to consider channelling the funds from the VED rate increase towards road maintenance.”

POTHOLE CAR DAMAGE DOUBLES OVER TEN YEARS

A new survey from the RAC has found that the number of cars damaged by potholes has more than doubled over the last ten years. This, believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA), is proof that the government is failing to provide the levels of investment necessary to bring the local road network up to an adequate standard.

The survey found that 21,500 cars rescued by the RAC over the last 12 months had suffered damage where the main contributory factor was potholes. This is a 126 per cent increase over the numbers of cars rescued in 2006. The damage includes broken suspension springs, distorted wheels and damaged shock absorbers. Reporting on the survey, David Bizley, RAC chief engineer said: “Our analysis paints a very disappointing picture which unequivocally confirms what most road users already know, which is that the condition of our local roads has deteriorated drastically in the last decade.”

Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive said: “The doubling in the number of cars damaged by potholes is proof that the decades of under-investment in our local road network is not being addressed. There is a £12 billion backlog of potholes repairs but the funding for local road maintenance is £6 billion for all of 2015- 2021. This and the occasional ad hoc funding boost, such as the recent government’s trumpeted additional £250 million, is simply not enough to address our deteriorating local road network.

Cash-strapped local authorities are doing the best that they can but faced with ever-dwindling resources it is often one step forward and two-steps back.”

NATIONAL DEFINITION OF POTHOLE CALLED FOR

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole. It warns that without such a standard, cash-strapped local authorities may move the goal posts in order to try to save money by not repairing smaller potholes.

RSTA’s warning follows the decision taken earlier this year by Perth and Kinross Council to redefine its classification of a pothole. The Council has declared that potholes must now be 60mm deep – an increase of 50 percent from its previous 40mm classification – before they are repaired and filled.

“Local authorities are under immense financial pressure. However, they have a duty of care to ensure that roads are properly maintained. This, they recognise and they work hard to meet that obligation but the ongoing cutbacks in local authority budgets means that that they may move the road maintenance goal posts in order to save money,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.

Although there is widespread adoption of the ‘Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice’ this only offers guidance as to best practice. It does not provide a national definition of potholes. As a result there are differing approaches throughout the UK. In Gloucestershire, a road surface defect becomes a pothole if it is 4cm deep and 30cm wide. Neighbouring Worcestershire has the same depth criteria of 40mm but a smaller dimension of 20cm. In Bath, a smaller depth of 3cm is accepted as being a pothole. However, in Hounslow, London, a pothole will only be repaired urgently if it reaches 7.5cm. In Warwickshire, a pothole of up to 5cm is not considered to be hazardous and will only be repaired as part of routine maintenance six months after being reported. Potholes up to 10cm will take up to 28 days to be repaired. However, in Trafford a pothole warrants repair at 4cm in depth. By contrast, Herefordshire County Council “aims to record and treat all potholes regardless of depth”.

“The lack of a national pothole definition means that we have a postcode lottery of road repair as different local authorities take different approaches. There is no consistency,” said Robinson. “Under the Road Traffic Act 1980 all local highway authorities have a duty of care to maintain their road network but there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”

He continued: “A national definition of at what depth and width a defect is recognised as being a pothole would enable a consistent road maintenance risk assessment, intervention and repair approach.”

CYCLISTS FALL VICTIM TO DETERIORATING ROADS

The decline in the state of road surfaces is one of the main factors behind a significant increase in the numbers of cyclists being killed or seriously injured according the CTC, the national cycling charity. New statistics from the Department for Transports show that in the year ending March 2015 3,410 cyclists were killed or seriously injured compared with 3,383 a year earlier. A further 16,760 cyclists were slightly injured. Commenting on the figures, CTC said that the rise in deaths and injuries was due to an increase in traffic, rising number of cyclists and the continued deterioration in road surfaces. It called upon local councils to be more proactive in fixing potholes. However, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) explained that lack of funding means that local authorities are often fighting a losing battle of pothole patch-and-mend rather than carrying out sustained programmes of road maintenance.

“Cyclists are amongst our most vulnerable road users. For them a deterioration in the road surface can result in serious, life-changing injuries,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “There is currently a £12.1 billion backlog of local road maintenance. Despite the government providing £6 billion to maintain local roads over the next six years, the backlog, continued cuts in funding and the ever increasing use of roads means that local councils are fighting a losing battle and find it difficult to keep pace with the level of road repairs required.”

He continued: “The Chancellor, George Osborne, recently announced a new road fund that will see the receipts from the vehicle excise duty being used for investment in roads. It is unfortunate that the monies raised will be directed at motorway and trunk roads and not at local roads which are used by cyclists and indeed by 98% of motorists. The road fund should be used for both national and local roads with local councils being given the necessary resources to carry out real long-term programmes of road maintenance and not emergency patch-and-mend.”

EAST SUSSEX DRIVERS SHORT CHANGED BY CHANCELLOR’S ROAD FUND

East Sussex County Council will not receive any monies from the Chancellor’s new vehicle excise duty road fund despite East Sussex motorists paying over £55 million* per year in vehicle excise duty. The new fund will only be for trunk roads and motorways. It will not be available for local roads which represent 98% of the UK road network.

The fund was unveiled by George Osborne in his July 2015 Budget. It will see the introduction in 2017 of three new levels of vehicle excise duty for new cars, starting with a lowest duty of £140 per year. The Chancellor promised that “every single penny raised in vehicle excise duty in England will pay for the sustained investment our roads so badly need” and stated that “tax paid on people’s cars will be used to improve the roads they drive on.”

“It is unfortunate that the majority of roads used by the majority of traffic will not benefit from this fund”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Roads Surface Treatments Association. “Last year Kent drivers paid over £55 million in vehicle excise duty yet the Council received only £16.5 million grant from the Department for Transport for road maintenance.” He continued: “The road fund should be used to invest in both the national and local road network. As stated by the Chancellor the tax fund should be used in improve the roads that people drive on surely that should include the local road network.”

*Calculated by multiplying the Department for Transport figures for the total number of vehicles registered in East Sussex for 2014 (330,608) by the £166 average vehicle excise duty charged per annum according to the Chancellor’s July 2015 Budget speech.

ROAD MAINTENANCE SECTOR WELCOMES CHANCELLOR’S PLANS FOR SPECIFIC ROAD FUND

The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed the Chancellor’s new vehicle excise duty road fund.

Unveiled in his first Conservative Budget, George Osborne announced a new national fund that will see the introduction in 2017 of three new levels of vehicle excise duty for new cars, starting with a lowest duty of £140 per year. He promised that “every single penny raised in vehicle excise duty in England will pay for the sustained investment our roads so badly need”. Having commented that the quality of UK road network lags behind that of Puerto Rico and Nambia, the Chancellor stated that “tax paid on people’s cars will be used to improve the roads they drive on.”

The announcement marks a return to when road tax was collected specifically to fund road network improvements.

“We warmly welcome the recognition by the Chancellor of the poor state of the road network and his announcement to provide a dedicated road fund to address this,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “For many years we have called for the monies raised from road taxation to be ring-fenced and used for the purposes that the road tax was set-up for”.

However, he warned: “Road taxes raise some £6 billion a year whilst fuel duty raises a further £27 billion. More of this money should be invested into long-term road maintenance that addresses the £12 billion necessary to bring our road network up to a reasonable standard.”

GOVERNMENT REDUCED FUNDING OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES WILL MEAN MORE POT HOLES

New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that councils in England could face a £3.3 billion funding reduction in 2016/17. This means that despite recent government announcements of additional funding for repair of potholes and road maintenance, local authorities will have to further reduce their spending on fixing roads.

The LGA analysis, ‘Future Funding Outlook Report’, found that due to reduced government funding and rising demand local councils will face a funding gap of £9.5 billion by 2020. With councils already having made £20 billion in savings since 2010 following government funding cuts of up to 40% many warn that there are no further efficiencies to be made and that vital services such as road maintenance will suffer. Indeed, LGA has found that between 2010/11 and 2013/14 spending on road repairs has already decreased by 17 per cent.

“The reduction of budgets for road repairs is alarming,” said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).  “The local road network is the greatest structural asset of local authorities yet due to continued government funding reductions, they are having to raid road budgets to fund other areas of council services. The results will be further deterioration in the road network, more pot holes and more money required in the future to make roads fit for purpose”.

He continued: “Local councils do not have the financial resources to undertake comprehensive long-term maintenance. Instead they have to do expensive short-term emergency pot hole repair and patch-and mend. Providing local authorities with the right level of funding would allow them to properly and cost efficiently maintain their roads”.

ROAD ACCIDENTS INCREASE UNDERLINE NEED FOR SAFE ROAD SURFACES

New figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that there has been an increase in overall road casualties in Britain for the first time in 18 years. It must be more than a coincidence that this increase comes at a time when many local authorities are failing to invest in a road surface that is widely recognised as playing an integral role in road safety and accident reduction.

According to the latest figures there were 1,775 reported road deaths in 2014, an increase of 4% compared with 2013. The number of those killed or seriously injured in Britain rose by 5% to 24,582. There were a total of 194,477 casualties of all severities which is an increased of 6%, the first increase in overall casualties since 1997.

“Whilst not wanting to speculate on the relationship between road surface condition and the number of road accidents, there must be some correlation between the rising number of accidents and the decrease use of high friction surfacing,” said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Despite being proven to improve skid resistance and reduce braking distances there has been a significant reduction in the installation of high friction surfacing. This has a detrimental impact on road safety and, as the average associated accident and investigation costs of a non-motorway road fatality is £1.4 million, has no economic basis.”

Typical locations for high friction surfacing include road junctions, approaches to traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and roundabouts as well as road stretches that have high accident levels. With a skid accident reduction of often 50% being reported its success speaks for itself. Treatment with high friction surfacing makes potentially high risk road locations far safer for both drivers and pedestrians and the financial savings of achieving this are considerable.

Despite the benefits over the last few years there has been a serious decline in the use of high friction surfacing due in large part to local authority perceived cost concerns. However, since the 1980’s this cost has been able to be balanced against a broader savings strategy with allocated accident investigation and prevention budgets proving the investment savings from high friction surfacing against the cost of accidents and casualties.

A further issue was the lack of best practice guidance. RSTA, with the support of ADEPT, has developed key industry guidance. The ‘Service Life of Surface Treatments’ establishes the service life of a range of road surface treatments including high friction surfacing and by doing so provides a nationally agreed baseline for durability. Having such an agreed baseline is invaluable for lifecycle planning and asset management. The service life is dependent upon a number of important factors including site location and traffic volumes, surface preparation, method of working and workforce competence based on training and qualifications.

In addition there is Code of Practice that provides best practice guidance for ensuring that the baseline service life is achieved. Aimed at both client and contractor, the Code examines the application of both hot and cold high friction surfacing systems and provides practical guidance and technical details for their specification and installation. All issues concerning planning, health and safety and work execution are examined and full reference is made to relevant regulations, standards and training. In all, the Code provides definitive guidance on the right way to specify and apply high friction surfacing. Furthermore, RSTA offers a full training programme for operatives.

“High friction surfacing offers a wide range of benefits not least of which is saving lives and money. Concerns over cost and durability have been addressed and best practice guidance and training programmes for consistent and high quality application are readily available,” said Robinson. “The increase in road fatalities and accidents underline the need for a safe, well maintained road surface.”

A WELL MAINTAINED ROAD NETWORK COULD PROVE TO BE A VOTE WINNER

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.