Issue 11 - Winter 2013

Industry's view


On 12th September a number of MPs questioned Norman Baker, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport about potholes and road maintenance. The debate is provided below:

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle potholes on UK roads.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle potholes on UK roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): The Department for Transport is providing more than £18 billion for highway maintenance for both the strategic and local road network between 2011 and 2021. That funding will help address the issue of potholes, which we know can cause problems for all highway users, including cyclists.

Sir Tony Baldry: Last year Oxfordshire county council repaired 5,662 potholes, and so far this year it has repaired 4,719, at a cost of about £5 million. However, the way we repair potholes has not changed much over the years, so may I ask my hon. Friend what research is being done to improve the way we repair roads for the 21st century?

Norman Baker: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I am happy to tell him that the Department has provided £6 million to the highways maintenance efficiency programme, which is looking at best practice, optimum techniques to keep costs down, and the materials that will be used. Two pothole reviews published in 2012 and 2013 take those matters forward, but getting best value is absolutely important.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The Secretary of State took his life into his hands in my constituency over the summer by getting on his bike, and saw at first hand the risks of the pothole crisis across north Yorkshire. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the issue of potholes, because for rural areas it is the No. 1 transport issue?

Norman Baker: I am happy to meet any hon. Member to discuss such matters. I am also grateful for the confirmation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has joined the rest of the ministerial team on a bike: we are very committed to cycling in the Department.

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): Cyclists and drivers in Wirral are infuriated by the quality of our roads and the number of potholes we have. The council has suffered ferocious cuts from the Government, so can the Minister tell me what conversations he has had with leaders of local authorities about how they can ensure that our roads are of a decent standard, given the Chancellor's austerity for local government?

Norman Baker: With respect, the hon. Lady might be misinformed about the funding, because the Government will spend more in this five-year period than the previous Government did on highway maintenance, with a greater allocation of money from the Department of Transport than happened under Labour. There will be a significant increase in the period from 2015-16 through the next Parliament. Coupled with the highway maintenance efficiency programme I mentioned a moment ago, that gives local authorities both the money and the tools to do the job properly. I suggest that she directs her remarks to her local authority.

RSTA members are encouraged to contact their local MP to highlight the problems of under-investment in road maintenance.
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Alain Bourguignon, CEO Aggregate Industries

In his foreword to the recent CBI Bold Thinking roads report, Bourguignon made a strong case for the need for joined-up thinking and long-term vision that is focused on the cost of roads over their life-cycle:

As a major supplier to national infrastructure developers, as well as a significant user of that infrastructure, we see the UK road network through different lenses. From an international perspective, we see the impact of under-investment on the UK's competitiveness – but we also see what this looks like from the ground. Our domestic construction firms, like thousands of other businesses up and down the country, are unable to maximise their productivity due to an unreliable road network.

We understand that government tries to make the most of a limited funding pot – but the most cost-effective course of action is rarely followed. Repair and maintenance programmes are often driven by a 'worst-first' rather than 'best-value' approach with insufficient consideration given to the suitability of materials and the effectiveness of the repairs. Such an approach places real limitations on the ability of firms to deliver best value for taxpayer money.

By transferring the management and maintenance of essential road infrastructure to long-term investment vehicles, we could see better planning, procurement and design of assets, leading to far better outcomes for all stakeholders.

A lack of connectivity between the national network and local roads provision is also leading to bottlenecks and a two-tier system. Too often businesses and private users of the road network are held up on their journeys through poorly planned interventions, adding unnecessary cost and delay.

Joined-up thinking and a long-term vision – focused on the cost of roads over their life cycle – is critical to delivering a performing road network and best value to businesses and local communities alike. We believe that bringing a commercial emphasis to the management of the road network will inevitably lead to better scheduling of works and additional capacity for all users. Improved connectivity of people, goods and services should lead to further economic growth at an essential time.

To download a copy of CBI Bold Thinking roads report visit: http://www.cbi.org.uk/business-issues/infrastructure/bold-thinking-roads-report/

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Peter Horton, Britannia Rescue Managing Director

According to official council data obtained by Britannia Rescue via a freedom of information request, Britain's roads are peppered with almost 200,000 potholes - or one for every mile of road in Great Britain. The combination of a harsh winter followed by a dry summer has particularly harmed road surfaces and exacerbated the problem.

Our research found that UK councils have received 32,600 compensation claims in the past financial year for everything from potholes ruining wheel rims, to puncturing tyres and damaging suspension - an increase of 79% from the previous financial year. Compensation claims for car damage resulting from potholes are costing councils a small fortune. The data shows that local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland paid out a total of £2.5 million in compensation for pothole or other road damage in the past financial year.

The problem is that road maintenance in the UK is severely under-funded with around £16 spent per driver on maintaining road surfaces and fixing potholes - less than 10% of the annual road tax bill. Short-term fixes are often chosen over longer term solutions, with close to a quarter of councils admitting they usually temporarily fix potholes rather than resurface the area. The average cost of repairing a pothole is around £50, meaning the amount paid out by councils in compensation could have been used to repair more than 50,000 potholes.

Britain's pothole epidemic has resulted from years of underinvestment in our roads. Local authorities face difficult choices in the roads they prioritise for repair. Motorists should protect themselves and their vehicles by reducing their speed on potholed roads, and also reporting damaged roads to their local council.

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