Average highway maintenance budgets were up by 15% on average in England last year although were below the levels reported in 2019, citing a continued pattern of inconsistent levels of funding, making it difficult for councils to plan longer term, according to this year’s ALARM Survey.
Welsh local authority budgets were up by 22% on average while London saw a small increase of 1.2%. As a result, more potholes were filled (13,298 for England) on average per local authority last year, with 3,967 filled on average in Wales and 2,634 in London. Local authorities have also worked hard to increase the amount of sustainable products used. The percentage of councils responding to the survey revealed that 61% had used warm mix asphalt and 82% were using recycled materials and 33% were choosing materials with the lowest initial carbon footprint, alongside 85% selecting surfacing materials with longer life.
The survey said however, the bill to fix the backlog is still in excess of £10 billion, meaning roads are resurfaced once every 68 years on average. It said: “The increased number of potholes filled is a reflection of the reduced investment in programmed work, which has resulted in poorer road conditions. Filling potholes isn’t a victory; it’s a failure.” According to the survey results, the Overall Road Condition Index showed that 60% roads were in green condition, 31% in amber and 9% in red against a target of 67% green, 25% amber and 8% red. Local authorities in England and Wales said that the ideal profile of road condition should be 73% green, 21% amber and 6% red. From a structural point of view, overall, around 54% if the local road network is reported to be in good condition, with 29% in adequate condition and 17% in poor.
Speaking about the survey on this week’s Highways Voices, Rick Green, Chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance said: “With a lot of competing funding requirements in a year like no other, the fact that on average local authorities in England received 15% for their highway maintenance budgets should be applauded. But this funding was lower than 2019 and it is this constant changing of funding levels is part of the problem, leading to the fact that the local authorities basically have a significant shortfall in the amount of funding that they believe they require.”
“We filled a 1.7 million potholes, which is one every 19 seconds but actually, filling potholes is a symptom of a poorly maintained road in the first place. They get expensive and they are wasteful. So, the fact that we've done more potholes is stopping people driving into them. But actually, it's not a good indicator that the amount of potholes have gone up.”
He also said that a more ‘streamlined’ competitive funding process would save local authorities time, money and resources on bidding. Mr Green also called for a five-year funding settlement that would enable highway authorities to plan more effectively. “A five-year Government funding package, similar to the commitment made to the strategic network in the two Roads Investment Strategy periods, would allow local authority highway asset managers to plan ahead, invest in, and implement a more sustainable, cost effective whole life approach to maintaining our local roads.”