Almost one in five minor roads in England is in dire need of repair, official figures have revealed.
The Government’s Road Conditions in England report paints a mixed picture, with some minor improvements in certain road categories and deteriorating roads elsewhere.
For both types of trunk road, the proportion of the network that should be considered for maintenance increased between 2012/13 and 2013/14. The trunk ‘A’ road figure was 5%, up two percentage points on 2012/13. The trunk motorway figure was 3%, one percentage point higher than the 2% that should have been considered for maintenance in 2012/13.
Meanwhile, 8% of the non-principal classified ‘B’ and ‘C’ road network in England should have been considered for maintenance. This was a decrease of one percentage point from 2012/13.
All English regions, except London, reported that a higher percentage of their ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads should have been considered for maintenance than on their ‘A’ roads and motorways.
Data collected via different methods showed that 18% – almost one in five – of the unclassified road network should have been considered for maintenance in 2013/14, the same as in 2012/13.
The report comes in the wake of research from the RAC Foundation that showed almost 50,000 drivers made claims against councils across Britain for damage caused to their vehicles by potholes in the last financial year.
Those 200 local highways authorities (out of a total of 207) in England, Scotland and Wales dealt with 48,664 compensation claims during 2013/14.
This is the equivalent of roughly one claim being submitted every 11 minutes, and an increase on the 2012/13 figure of 46,139 claims.
However councils refused the majority of claims, agreeing to pay out in less than a quarter (23%) of cases.
The total value of successful claims was £3.2 million. The average pay-out for a successful claim in 2013/14 was £286, down from £357 the year before. The average administration cost of each claim – successful or not – was £147.
Almost two-thirds (65%) of fleets told Fleet News last year that their vehicles had suffered downtime as a result of pothole damage.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The fundamental problem lies not at the doors of our town halls but with central government.
“Despite occasional one-off grants related to periods of harsh weather, they are simply not giving councils enough money to keep their road networks up to scratch.
“In England, local authorities themselves estimate the maintenance backlog to be about £12 billion. Yet over the past five years, spending on roads in real terms has dropped 22% across England and Wales.”
However, the Government argues that it is making funding available to local authorities to improve the condition of their road networks. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced late last year that £6bn will be spent on tackling potholes and improving local roads between 2015 and 2021 (fleetnews.co.uk, December 23, 2014).
The investment amounts to £976m a year and, according to the Government, it is the first time councils have been given locked-in funding over this length of time.
Meanwhile, poor road drainage is another concern, highlighted by motorists in recent AA research. Half of 18,806 AA members polled in late January said that, where they live, heavy rain leaves roads pockmarked with pools of water that create a driving menace.
Although this compares with 51% at the same time last year, those feeling strongly about the hazard have risen to one in five of all members. Two-thirds (66%) of 18,806 AA members polled in late January said that councils don’t clear drains as well as they used to.
Rural parts of the UK, perhaps predictably, stand out as the worst areas for puddles, pools and even small lakes on roads. However, the parity of the south east with these areas underlines the dismal condition of rainy roads in the most populated part of the country.
Edmund King, AA president, said: “Potholes and the condition of the road surface may be the focus of the Department for Transport report on the condition of English roads, but bad drainage can present a more extensive and potentially more damaging threat to UK drivers and their vehicles.”