Category Archives: Highway Maintenance

PREDICTIONS OF NEW BEAST FROM EAST IS BAD NEWS FOR ROADS

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.

INVEST PROPOSED FUEL DUTY CUT IN ROAD MAINTENANCE

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.

LOCAL ROADS NOT IN GREAT SHAPE IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT

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 COLD WINTER ARE BAD NEWS FOR LOCAL ROADS

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”.

NEW ASSET MANAGEMENT GROUP FOR LOCAL ROADS

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: enquiries@rsta-uk.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.”

COUNCIL PRAISED BUT GOVERNMENT CRITICISED

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 DATA SHOW HOW COUNCILS ARE FORCED TO RAID THEIR HIGHWAY BUDGETS TO FUND OTHER SERVICES

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:

  1. 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

LOCAL DEMOCRACY: BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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’.”

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.