An increase in highway maintenance budgets is helping local authorities stem the decline in the condition of the local road network, but in England the number of roads considered to be in ‘poor condition’ still increased in 2018.
The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) commissions an annual survey of highways departments in all local authorities in England and Wales to build a picture of the general condition of local roads.
The 2019 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, published on 26 March, shows that – for a second consecutive year – local authorities’ highway maintenance budgets have increased by almost 20%.
For councils in England (including London), this included a share of £420m additional funding allocated in the November 2018 budget.
As a consequence of the additional funding, the total number of potholes filled in 2018 rose by 24% to 1.86 million – the equivalent of one pothole being repaired every 17 seconds.
Despite this, the survey estimates the ‘one-time catch-up cost’ to get roads in England and Wales back into reasonable condition has risen to £9.79bn – a slight increase from the £9.31bn reported in 2018.
The survey also shows that the number of roads considered to be in ‘poor condition’ – meaning they have less than five years’ life remaining – has risen to 21% in England (up from 18%), and in London from 23% to 26%.
However, the picture in Wales is better, where the number of roads classed as poor has fallen from 17% to 12%.
The AIA says that despite ‘glimmers of hope’, investment is ‘still falling short of the amount needed to maintain local roads to target conditions’.
Rick Green, chairman of the AIA, said: “With the amount needed to bring the local road network up to scratch still approaching £10bn, sustained investment over a longer time frame is needed if we want a local road network that supports enhanced mobility, connectivity and productivity.”
‘This is hardly positive’
The RAC says it remains the case that a driver today is still more than twice as likely to breakdown as a result of a pothole than in 2006.
Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said: “The results from this year’s survey chimes with our own breakdown data, which suggests the overall state of the UK’s roads is not getting any worse – but this is hardly positive.
“More money appears to be getting through to councils to allow them to improve poor road surfaces, but it’s simply not enough.”