LONDON HAS THE ROAD NETWORK OF A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY

News that the local road maintenance backlog in London is now over £1bn should sound a warning bell for the government. Continued funding cutbacks and decades of lack of investment in local road maintenance means that some areas of London, the capital of a first world city, have the road network more suited to a third world country said the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

The latest ‘State of the city’ survey, carried out by Atkins on behalf of London Councils and the London Technical Advisers Group, has found that the total maintenance backlog is estimated to be £1.02bn up from £907m. The survey covers the roads managed by London’s boroughs who manage 95% of the capital’s roads.

“The problem is not just a lack of funding, but a lack of funding consistency and predictability,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. “The current network spend is £300m a year against a need to spend at least £350m a year. Despite increased asset management and cost efficiencies London’s highway authorities are fighting a losing battle. Highway professionals want to follow the new code of practice, ‘Well Managed Highways’ as well as implement industry recommendations but the annual funding allocation, occasionally topped-up by spot-funding at odd times of the year, does not allow the planning required for good asset management. This is necessary for planning the right road surface treatments in the right places at the right time of year in order to maximise the life of roads in the most cost effective way.”

London councils expect government core funding to reduce by 63% in real terms over the decade to 2020. They have to fund the maintenance of their roads from budgets that are shrinking and, as they are not ring-fenced, are subject to being ransacked to pay for other council services.

“Years of under-funding means that despite their best efforts councils are unable to halt the continued deterioration of the London roads. The resulting rutted, potholed network is more third world than the capital of the worlds’ fifth largest economy,” said Harper. “The roads surface industry knows how to achieve better results than this. What we need is a five year settlement for local roads, similar to that used for the national road network. This would allow our highway engineers to deliver the improved road network that Londoners need and have a right to expect.”

COUNCIL FUNDING BLACK HOLE HAS SEVERE ROAD CONSEQUENCES

Predictions that councils in England could face a funding black hole of over £50bn over the next six years would see even less being spent on local road maintenance as councils would be forced to raid their highway budgets in order to fund social care and other services.

An independent analysis of councils’ financial sustainability up to 2025 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) for the County Councils Network (CCN) has found that the rising demand for services plus rising costs could result in councils needing an additional £51.8bn over the period 2019-2025.

This funding black hole could have severe repercussions on road maintenance expenditure explained Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA):  “Councils are being forced to make difficult choices and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this makes them an easy target. Over the last few years we have seen the compound effect of consecutive years of underfunding on basic road maintenance. This has caused the pothole epidemic – an indication of the state of road surfaces as a whole. The local road network is a council’s most important infrastructure asset yet they are forced to raid their highway budgets to fund other services. Local authorities reported an increase in funding allocation last year, but it is essential those funds are protected and are used for road maintenance”.

According to the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM Survey decades of government underfunding local road maintenance means that one-in-five local roads are so structurally poor that they may need replacing in five years. Harper said: “This is such a poor way to maintain our roads, to let them get into such a poor condition that replacement is the only option. Timely intervention, as part of a planned asset management strategy, is the way forward, using road surface treatments that can increase the longevity of the road at a fraction of the price of replacement and with much less disruption to road users”.

Harper continued: “A well-maintained local road network is essential for the national economic prosperity of the country. It is the prerequisite link to the national road and rail network, to the ports and airports, between peoples’ homes and places of work. It is too important an asset for its already limited budgets to be used as a reserve to dip into to fund other council services.

Faced with continued budgetary cutbacks and rising demand and costs councils have striven to increase productivity and efficiencies yet there is only so much that they can do. Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that allow funding for all areas of services. The Well Managed Highways Code of Practice is now in place for authorities to practice proper asset management. Let’s give the highways maintenance professionals the security of funding they need to be able to follow this guidance by providing a 5 year ring fenced settlement for local roads.”

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.”

2019 RSTA Spring Conference

The RSTA 2019 Spring Conference will be held on the 11th April 2019 at the Belfry Hotel and Resort, Sutton Coldfield. With 250+ delegates from across the highways industry and a full speaker programme on the theme “Are Britain’s Roads Open For Business”, followed by the annual golf event (or country pursuits), awards evening and gala dinner. For more details, click on the link below

RSTA Spring Conference 11th April 2019

 

DROP IN POTHOLE NUMBERS WELCOMED BUT NOT CELEBRATED

News that the number of potholes on local roads in the UK has significantly fallen is welcomed but should not be celebrated said the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).

New data obtained under that Freedom of Information Act by Insurance Emporium has found a 27% drop in the number of potholes on the local road network from over 1 million in 2016 to 780,000 in 2018.

“Whilst local authorities, who are faced with long-standing and continued budgetary cutbacks, are to be congratulated in reducing the number of potholes, the fact is that potholes are a failure to undertake planned programmes of maintenance. A well-maintained road will not have potholes”, said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive.

He continued: “Successive governments have failed to understand the economic and social importance of a well-maintained local road network and have failed to provide local authorities with the necessary assured funding to carry out planned programmes of maintenance. The result is that councils are playing a never game of pothole patch-up.”

Harper pointed out the economic folly of this approach explaining that: “It costs only £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road but costs an average £52m2 to repair potholes”.

Regular planned programmes of preventive maintenance would significantly improve the road network. The 2018 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found that rate of deterioration of the local road network is accelerating. 1 in 5 roads may need to be replaced within the next 5 years, it would cost £9.31 billion and take 14 years to bring the road network up to a reasonable standard. Worryingly the survey also found that English councils have seen a marked decrease in road surfacing frequency reporting, on average, for all classes of road, a jump from once every 55 years, to once every 92 years. For unclassified roads the leap is even more pronounced – going from 87 years, last year, to once every 132 years. Figures for Wales also show a dramatic change, with a figure of once every 71 years now reported for the frequency of resurfacing for all roads.

“Patching up the road network and filling potholes is all very well, but had local authorities been able to invest in planned maintenance then the potholes would not have been there in the first place,” said Harper.

VARYING COUNCIL POTHOLE REPAIR TIMES UNDERLINE NEED FOR NATIONAL POTHOLE DEFINITION

A new analysis of the different times taken by councils to repair potholes has underlined the need for a national pothole definition. The analysis raises the question of when is a pothole not a pothole and if it is a pothole when is it large enough to warrant repair?

The analysis, undertaken by the RAC Foundation, found that Cumbria, Flintshire and South Lanarkshire councils aim to act ‘immediately’ to repair potholes that pose the greatest risk to the state of the road and the safety of drivers and riders. However, Coventry City Council’s stated policy is to aim to intervene within five days.

Between the two extremes, Harrow Council sets a target repair time of half an hour, while a further 16 councils aim to patch things up within an hour, and five within 90 minutes. The most common response time to the most urgent problems is two hours, with 79 councils looking to patch up the road within this timescale.

The analysis was based on Freedom of Information data from 190 of the 207 local highway authorities in Britain.

The significantly different response times taken by local authorities to repair potholes underlines calls from the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole. “The lack of a national pothole definition means that we have a postcode lottery of road repair as different local authorities take different approaches. There is no consistency,” said Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. Under the Road Traffic Act 1980 local authorities have a duty of care to properly maintain their road network but within the Act there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”

The RAC Foundation found that while 37 local highway authorities said they would investigate further when a pothole was between 20-30mm deep, 26 said the depth had to be at least 50mm or more.

Harper went on to warn: “Councils taking a risk-based approach to repair the worst potholes first will be of little comfort to those cyclists dislodged by a pothole or those motorists whose vehicle is damaged by a pothole that does not meet the risk criteria of the individual council. We need a national definition of at what depth and width a defect is recognised as being a pothole. This would enable a consistent road maintenance risk assessment, intervention and repair approach.”

GOVERNMENT TRAFFIC STATISTICS UNDERLINE NEED FOR GREATER ROAD MAINTENANCE INVESTMENT

New government statistics underline the pressures that the poorly maintained local road network is facing and the need for greater investment in maintenance to ensure that the network can cope.

The latest Transport Statistics Great Britain 2018 from the Department for Transport reports that in 2017 the road network carried 327.1 billion vehicle miles. The vast majority of this was on ‘A’ roads and minor roads which carried 147.2 billion vehicle miles and 111.9 billion vehicle miles respectively.

The pressures are forecasted to increase. The latest DfT’s Road Traffic Forecasts 2018 predict a further traffic increase of up to 51% by 2050.

“Decades of under investment means that our road networks are unable to cope with the impact of current high traffic levels let alone a predicted increase of 51%. This is confirmed by the unacceptable high levels of potholes and deterioration,” said Mike Harper, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “The lack of investment means that some £9 billion is necessary just to bring the condition of the current local authority roads up to an acceptable standard, without any additional investment necessary for future increased capacity.”

He continued: “Local authorities are facing severe budgetary pressures that means they are unable to commit to the necessary investment for long-term road maintenance. If the road network is to be able to cope with the traffic demands being placed upon it then the government must provide more funding for road maintenance.

In addition, a funding framework giving certainty over a longer planning period (say 5 years) would enable asset managers to make longer term decisions and plan for proper preventative maintenance by treating surfaces before problems occur. The £420 million recently announced for pothole repair is welcome as extra funding, but as it has to be spent by March 2019, will result in patch and mend rather than properly planned surface treatments. It is this planned maintenance, carried out at the right time of year, that would protect a much larger area of the network and reduce ongoing occurrences 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”.

ROAD INDUSTRY WELCOMES PROPOSALS FOR LOCAL ROAD FIVE-YEAR SETTLEMENT

The Road Surface Treatment Association (RSTA) has welcomed proposals to develop a five-year funding settlement for local roads similar to that provided for the national road network.

The proposals were revealed by the roads minister Jesse Norman at the recent Highways UK event.

A business case is currently being worked on. It will examine the possibility of the Department for Transport (DfT) securing a long-term combined capital and revenue settlement. Such a settlement has long been resisted by the Treasury to provide the capital funding and will also require the support of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government who provide local authorities with the revenue funding for local roads. Neither funding streams are currently ringfenced but the ringfencing of Vehicle Excise Duty from 2020 for strategic roads suggests a dedicated fund might be possible for local roads too.

Welcoming the proposals, Howard Robinsons RSTA chief executive said: “We have long argued for a confirmed, long-term funding settlement for the local road network. This would provide a necessary level of certainty that allows local authorities to plan and implement long-term road maintenance programmes rather than play a never-ending game of pothole catch-up.

We hope that the business case currently being developed underlines the need for the country’s most important infrastructure asset to have the funding that it needs and deserves.”