The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called upon the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to use his forthcoming Autumn Statement to demonstrate something that his predecessors have failed to do: an understanding that good local road maintenance is essential for the social-economic wellbeing of the country.
The failure to appreciate the true socio-economic worth of a well-maintained road network is underlined by the decades of under investment that has left a legacy of £12 billion worth of potholed roads in need of investment. Central government seems to be unable to understand that the local road network is the essential link to the national road network, rail stations, ports and airports. It is also the main means of access to people’s homes, to schools, hospitals and businesses.
Hammond should start by using his Autumn Statement to correct the anomaly that local roads will not receive any monies from the new vehicle excise duty road fund announced by the previous Chancellor, George Osborne.
The new fund, to be introduced in 2017, is only for trunk roads and motorways. It will not be available for local roads despite their representing 98% of the UK road network.
“Decades of under-investment that has left our local roads in a continuing state of decline,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive. “The Chancellor should demonstrate that he understands the importance of the local road network and announce that the road fund should be used to invest in both the national and local road network.”
The Government is committed to providing £6 billion from 2015 to 2021 for local road maintenance however over the same period drivers in England will provide over £30 billion in vehicle excise duty. “The huge discrepancy between what motorists pay in tax and what is spent on maintaining the roads that they pay tax to drive on should be addressed,” said Robinson.
Cash strapped local highway authorities are doing what they can and over the last year they have filled in over 2 million potholes. However, the lack of assured real long-term funding means that much of this is expensive reactive repair rather than cost-effective preventative maintenance that would have prevented the potholes from forming in the first place. This has long been the logical economic argument forwarded by the road maintenance industry. It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £57m2 to repair one pothole.
“The case for funding a well-maintained road network is strong. The Chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to make that case,” said Robinson. “If the Chancellor wants a positive economic legacy then he should provide real levels of investment in local roads and work with local authorities to develop long-term funding mechanisms that enable the implementation of programmes of planned maintenance.”