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Long-term funding essential to address UK’s crumbling roads, say MPs

The extreme state of disrepair of the English local road network will only be sorted by a ‘front-loaded’ five-year funding settlement.

The report says the Government’s current short-term approach to financing road maintenance is not “not fit for purpose”

So say MPs from the Transport Committee, adding the Government’s current short-term approach to financing road maintenance is not “not fit for purpose”.

The call comes in the Committee’s latest report, ‘Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap’, which says that local government revenue funding has fallen by about 25% since 2010 and with no ring-fencing for local roads funding, cash-strapped authorities have diverted the money to plug other gaps such as social care.

Lack of funding certainty has caused many councils to take short-term, reactive decisions on road maintenance, which is less effective than proactive maintenance and undermines local economic performance and results in direct costs to taxpayers, either through rising costs of deferred work or through a ‘mend and make do’ approach. It also damages vehicles and causes injuries to passengers, particularly those with existing medical conditions.

And such a set-up also “seriously compromises” the safety of other road users, especially cyclists.

The Committee warns that extracting a five-year settlement from the Treasury should not be an excuse to cut funding, and adds that the exact nature of the settlement should be developed following consultation with local authorities to ensure the funding is designed in a way that will be most useful for them. “It should encourage innovation, collaboration and good practice,” it continues.

And the Committee believes that the DfT should make it easier for the public to report road concerns and to access real-time updates on road conditions.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: “Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services. This is not an isolated example – it’s been a common thread in our other recent inquiries on buses and active travel. Now is the time for the Department to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.

“Almost every journey begins and ends on local roads: the DfT must work with the public and local authorities to make them safe.”

The report has been welcomed by the AA. Jack Cousens, head of roads policy, said: “Last week eight out of 10 (81%) drivers told us that potholes on local roads are causing problems, with more than half saying they are causing big problems (52%).

“Local councils have seen their budgets stretched and cut back for several years, and despite a good effort last year, ultimately they are losing the battle on potholes. According to the latest AIA Alarm survey, residential roads in England are resurfaced once every 99 years – a truly once in a lifetime situation!

“Currently it would take a decade to get our local roads back to where they should be, so a fully funded five-year project would go a long way towards smoothing out our streets.”

The IAM RoadSmart has also backed the Transport Committee’s calls – saying nearly half of people it surveyed have experienced pothole damage to their vehicles.

An Asphalt Industry Alliance investigation found that councils in England and Wales would need to spend a total of £9.8 billion over 10 years to bring all their roads up to standard.

Rodney Kumar, IAM RoadSmart spokesman, said: “While we understand that local government funding has been cut, the effect of pothole damage to beleaguered British motorists is huge. It costs them a fortune, stops them getting to work and has a detrimental effect on the economy.

“It really is time to ring-fence funds for tackling this pothole epidemic, and get the problem sorted once and for all.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.