The negative impact of decades of under-investment in road maintenance has been confirmed by the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. The survey found that despite additional government emergency pothole repair funding and a significant 33% increase in the number of potholes being repaired during 2014 there still remains a black hole of £12.16 billion required to bring the local road network up to an adequate standard.

The annual survey is carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance and is based on information supplied by 52% of local authorities responsible for roads in England and Wales. It found that 2.7 million potholes were filled last year. However, this is expensive reactive repair rather than cost-effective preventative maintenance that would prevent the potholes forming in the first place. This has long been the logical economic argument forwarded by the road maintenance industry.

“Due to years of under-investment, local authorities are playing a never-ending catch-up game. They need the assurance of long-term funding so that they can undertake planned programmes of maintenance not expensive patch-and-mend. It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £57 m2 to repair potholes,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

Robinson also points to a further cost of poorly maintained roads, that of compensation to drivers for vehicular damage caused by potholes. He said: “Last year the cost of road user compensation claims rose to £32.1 million. This is money that hard-pressed local authorities can ill afford.”

There is some optimism that the government is at last realising the need for assured long-term road maintenance funding with £6 billion pledged between 2015 and 2021. “However, this may sound like a significant amount of money but given the poor state of the road network and the growing traffic demands being placed upon it the funding will only be enough for local authorities to continue to play catch-up and do nothing to address the £12 billion backlog of road repairs”, said Robinson.

He continued: “The incoming government must recognise the social and economic benefits of a well-maintained road network and work with local authorities to develop and introduce long-term funding mechanisms that encourage programmes of planned maintenance. Relying on expensive patch-and-mend is not the answer.”