The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed the government’s announcement to invest additional funding to repair over 11 million potholes.
At the Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday 14th May, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, announced a multi-billion pound road and railway investment to help England recover from the economic impact of the Covid 19 crisis. This includes a £1.7 billion Transport Infrastructure Investment Fund to improve roads, repair bridges and fill in millions of potholes. In addition to this fund, the government is also accelerating over £175 million worth of road and rail works during the quieter period as people follow the guidance to avoid unnecessary travel. The Department for Transport reports that the number of potholes was “enough to tarmac a road stretching a third of the way around the earth.”
Welcoming the announcement Rory O’Connor, RSTA Interim Chief Executive, said: “The additional funding is welcomed both for helping to address the £11.14 billion local road repair backlog and for its recognition of the importance of having a well-maintained local road network for the national economic well-being.”
Predictions that Britain is facing a new ‘Beast from the East’ could prove to be bad news for those highway authorities who have not carried out the necessary maintenance of the road network warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
Researchers at University College London have made one of the longest-range UK weather forecasts and predicted that January – February 2020 could be one of the coldest winters for 30 years with an average temperature of 3.9C, which is 0.5C below the 1981-2010 average for the same period.
“A severe winter would have a detrimental impact upon our roads and result in a significant increase in the number of potholes, particularly where roads have not been properly maintained or re-surfaced,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.
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 over the last 10 years, mean that many highway authorities have not had assured levels of funding for planned, comprehensive maintenance and are forced to adopt an expensive patch-and-mend approach.
“Years of under-investment by successive governments has resulted in a decline in proactive maintenance techniques such as surface treatments, where roads are treated before they get to a critical condition, by sealing the surface against water ingress and thus preventing potholes forming. This is what highway authorities should be doing to comply with the new code of practice, Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure. The industry constantly counts how many potholes have been repaired, but in reality we should be stopping them forming in the first place. The resultant patch-and-mend mentality of repairing potholes reactively is a very expensive solution explained Harper. “Whilst the government has provided some much welcomed additional ad-hoc funding there are over 40,000 local roads that are in such a poor structural condition that they will need to be replaced within 5 years.”
Harper called for a new approach from both national and local government: “What is needed from national government is a 5 year settlement for the UK’s Local Road Network, similar to that already in place, and delivering benefits, for the Strategic Road Network. Such a new approach would provide that assured funding that allows local highway authorities to plan and implement the programmes of maintenance that would enable roads to withstand the impact of severe winters and ever increasing traffic volumes.
To benefit social well-being and the national economy, the monies from cutting fuel duty should be spent on repairing the road network.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is considering a two pence cut in the current 57.9p fuel duty. The proposal is the latest sign that the Government is gearing up for a Brexit Election later this year and follows voter-friendly announcements on schools and the NHS.
It is estimated that the cut would cost the Treasury £1.5 billion. This argues the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) should be spend on investing in the repair and maintenance of the deteriorating local road network.
“There are 35 million drivers in the UK. Most are voters who are fed-up with potholes and the damage that they do to their vehicles,” said Mike Harper, RSTA Chief Executive. Decades of under investment by successive governments has resulted in a deteriorating local road network riddled with potholes. The bill to restore the road network to a decent standard is £9.79 billion. Investing the £1.5 billion from the cut in fuel duty in road maintenance could make a significant difference.”
RSTA has long called for the investment of an additional 2p per litre taken from the existing fuel duty to fix the plague of potholes. In addition, RSTA believes that there should be a ring-fenced 5 year funding settlement for local roads, as is the case for the strategic road network, so that highway managers can make long term decisions about how to best manage their pavement assets with planned programme of road maintenance rather than reactive patch-and-mend pothole repair.
“Boris Johnson wishes to be remembered as the prime minister who sorts out Brexit. He should also consider being the prime minister who fixed our roads by directing the fuel duty to where it really should go: back into the road network,” said Harper.
Traffic has increased significantly over the last 20 years, they the amount of surface dressing has not. This has created a pot hole pandemic on our local road network.
The RSTA has joined forces with the REA to highlight this issue.
Prevention is far more cost effective. See our video here, on the pot hole pandemic.
Jesse Norman, the transport minister, has a genius for understatement, believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). Giving evidence to the Commons Select Transport Committee investigation into local funding and governance, Norman described the local road network as being “not in great shape”.
Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive’ said: “When the recent Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey reports that one in five local roads will need replacing within the next years due to their poor structural condition, that it would cost £9.8 billion to bring the local road network up to a reasonable standard, that local roads are only resurfaced every 67 years. I would say that they are in a critical condition rather than not being in good shape.”
Harper explained how decades of chronic under-investment by successive governments in long-term maintenance: “This has left a legacy of rutted, potholed roads for which local councils are forced to carry out patch-and-mend repairs rather than undertake planned programmes of maintenance that could stop the potholes from forming in the first place.”
He pointed out that despite the economic and social importance of a road network on which the vast majority of journeys begin and end there is no long-term funding strategy for local roads. This is stark contrast to the strategic road network which has a five years assured funding that allows for long-term planning and delivery.
“The local road network must have assured long-term ring-fenced funding that will enable local councils to undertake the programmes of maintenance that are so desperately needed. Failure to provide this will continue the legacy of potholes.”
Predictions of the coldest winter for eight years could prove to be bad news for the local road network. The Weather Company is predicting Britain’s worst winter since 2010-11 with temperatures falling to -21C. Exacta Weather are predicting a colder than average December with widespread snow. Meanwhile, the Met Office also believes that a predicted El Nino warming of the eastern Pacific could result in colder than usual temperatures in December and January. This is bad news for those highway authorities who have failed to properly maintain their road networks and for the motorists who use them warns the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
“A cold icy winter will have a detrimental impact upon our roads resulting in more potholes, particularly where local authority highway departments have not carried out proper road maintenance programmes”, warned Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.
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.
Robinson called upon the government to provide local authorities with the necessary assured funding to carry out road maintenance: “Patch-and-mend defies economic logic”, said Robinson. “It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs on average £52m2 to repair potholes. Expensive, emergency patch and mend repair of potholes is not a sensible use of highway budgets.”
A prolonged cold winter with cycles of freezing and thawing will be bad news for vulnerable roads. The government needs to provide the necessary funding to allow local authorities to invest in programmes of planned maintenance and so ensure that their road network is weather resilient”.
A new Asset Management Group has been set-up by the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). Aimed at local authorities, the Group will allow their highway departments to share best practice linked to the now mandatory Code of Practice – Well Managed Highway Infrastructure. The Code calls for a change in the way that road network is managed through the adoption of a risk-based approach.
The Group has been established in partnership with XAIS Ltd, an asset management consultancy. It will develop and run a series of new courses on road surfaces and setting investigatory levels linked to road hierarchies.
The first of these courses is on skid resistance. It will specifically focus on section B.5.6 of the Code and the recommendations for skid resistant surveys including setting the hierarchy, responsibilities, timescales and collating evidence. The course will examine how to develop a skid resistant strategy, how to measure skid resistance as well as the legal implications and liability risk.
The two-day skid resistance course will run on 4/5th October in Wolverhampton, 17/18th October in Milton Keynes, 15/16th November in Bristol and 4/5th December in Doncaster. For registration and further information visit: www.rsta-uk.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The new group will enable local authorities to take the best approach towards adopting asset management and we encourage them to join”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Given that, according to Department for Transport statistics, 27% of local roads need further investigation of possible inadequate skid resistance, the course on skid resistance and investigatory limits and road hierarchies will provide highway departments with the knowledge of how to meet their legal responsibilities via a risk-based approach.”
Oxfordshire County Council has been praised for its decision to borrow £120 million to repair roads and other council assets. However, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) says that although the council is to be commended for its planned investment, it is a sad indictment of how the government’s budget cutbacks have forced the council to go into debt to pay for essential road maintenance.
The council has made its decision following a report to the council’s cabinet that found lack of investment has resulted in a ‘significant reduction in quality of major and minor roads, as well as pavements, with an increase in car damage and personal injury claims’. The proposed investment will see £80 million spent on road improvements and £40 million invested in other council-owned assets.
It is hoped that Oxfordshire’s expected growth in homes and subsequent annual £6million increase in council tax revenue will pay back the loan.
“Oxfordshire County Council are to be commended for their decision to borrow to invest in road maintenance”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The premise of investing in a well-maintained roadwork for economic return has been underlined by a recent West Midlands Road Condition Survey that found that an accelerated road maintenance programme would generate economic returns of £6.50 for every £1 spent. However, the council’s need to borrow additional funding proves that funding from central government is not sufficient to allow councils to fulfil their responsibilities.”
By 2020, local authorities will have had a £16 billion reduction of core government funding since 2010. Continued funding restrictions means that by 2025 councils in England will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion. Faced with this, councils are trying to find new ways of funding and operating whilst still delivering essential services such as road maintenance.
“The local road network is a council’s greatest infrastructure asset. A well maintained road network has significant economic and social benefits. Yet for years the government had failed to provide adequate funding for local road maintenance. The government should recognise the national importance of the local road network and increase investment accordingly,” said Robinson.
New government statistics have exposed the extent to which local highway departments are being forced to rob their transport budgets by hundreds of millions in order to fund social care.
The Local Authority Expenditure and Financing 2018-19 Budget: England, published by Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, shows that local authorities were forecast to spend £4.24 billion on highways and transport over 2017-2018. Yet, new outturn figures from the Ministry show that they actually spent £3.994 billion. This represents an underspend of over £240 million as councils raid their highway budgets to fund other services.
As the Government continues to reduce core funding, councils are facing significant funding pressures. The Local Government Association report that English councils will have an overall funding gap of almost £8 billion by 2025. Faced with increased social care demands that figure will certainly rise. As will the number of councils reporting severe budget deficits. Northampton Council has a shortfall of £70 million, Lewisham Council has a deficit of £13 million, Surrey, England’s richest county, has a shortfall of £100 million.
“Councils are being forced to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this makes them an easy target,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “The result is the plague of potholes and deteriorating road surfaces seen across the country as councils struggle to fund programmes of essential maintenance. The local road network is a council’s most important infrastructure asset yet they are forced to ransack their highway budgets to fund other services.”
He continued: “Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that allow funding for all areas of services.”
Notes to editors:
- The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) aims to raise the awareness of the benefits of road surface treatments and promote work force competence and safe working practices. Membership covers the whole supply chain and includes large national and regional contracting companies, Local Authority Direct Labour Services Organisations, materials and equipment suppliers, test houses and consultants. Members are required to be registered with the National Highway Sector Scheme 13 or HAPAS Product Certification and Approved Installers Schemes. For further information on the RSTA, its objectives, membership and programme of industry initiatives and training visit: www.rsta-uk.org
The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has welcomed proposals to provide local residents with more powers to veto or approve plans that affect their communities, but warns that when it comes to the issue of potholes the government should be careful of what it wishes for.
The proposals form part of the new Civic Society Strategy launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It calls for an ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme in six regions across the country. This will trial creative ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area. This could include Citizens’ Juries or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app. These issues could include approval of new housing developments, closure of libraries or spending more to fix potholes.
“Throughout the UK local residents are already very vocal via social and local media about the poor state of repair of their roads. The government should be careful that formalising these concerns via local authority polls would underline the extent of the lack of road maintenance funding provided to local highway authorities”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA Chief Executive.
He continued: “Increased community involvement is to be welcomed but to be meaningful it must be supported by the necessary funding. Voters would be further disenchanted if poll findings for greater investment in local roads was met with ‘ah yes but we don’t have the budget’.”