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Decade of under-investment on UK roads takes its toll

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Concern is mounting at the state of the UK road network after yet another report called for urgent action to address the issue.

Research from Audit Scotland shows that spending on motorways and key trunk routes maintained by Transport Scotland fell by 4% between 2011/12 and 2014/15. The proportion in acceptable condition also fell from 90% to 87% over the same period.

Transport Scotland also spent £24 million less on structural maintenance in 2014/15 than it considered necessary to maintain road conditions at current levels.

Councils maintain most of Scotland’s road network. The proportion of these roads classed as being in acceptable condition has remained constant at around 63% over the four years 2011/12 to 2014/15. Council spending on maintenance fell by 14% over the same period. 

Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: “A well-maintained road network is vital for Scotland’s economic prosperity. We cannot afford to neglect it. What is needed is a longer term view which takes into account the need for new roads and the proper maintenance of what we have at present.”

The Audit Scotland report comes in the wake of a 10-year analysis of RAC breakdowns caused by potholes.

The study, which compared the percentage share of the RAC’s pothole-related breakdowns to all other types of call-out alongside historic rainfall and frost data, revealed a 125% increase from 2006 to 2016 in the proportion of vehicle breakdowns where poor road surfaces were likely to be a contributory factor (fleetnews.co.uk, July 30).

In the 12 months ending in June 2006, pothole-related breakdowns, such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels represented an average of 0.4% of all RAC call-outs. In stark contrast however, at the end of the 12 months to June 2016 this percentage had risen to 0.9% (21,600 call-outs). 

Previous research from the RAC has shown damage to company vehicles due to potholes is one of the top business bugbears for fleets (fleetnews.co.uk, June 16).

In total, 46% of fleets listed pothole damage as their main concern from a list of possible grievances, with only 20% saying they were concerned about the prospect of an economic slowdown. In terms of company-operated vehicles, the RAC said it had seen a 16% increase in damaged suspension springs, from 1,249 in 2014 to 1,455 in 2015.

Jenny Powley, sales director for corporate business at RAC Business, said: “The time spent off the road due to the damage caused by potholes can amount to hundreds of pounds a day in lost productivity.”

To address the pothole problem, the Government has set aside £6bn to fund local road maintenance between 2015 and 2021, and announced an additional £50m in the budget to enable councils to fill almost one million potholes.

However, the Asphalt Industry Alliance says that overall budgets for highways departments in England have dropped by 16% and experts estimate that around £12bn would be required to get roads into a reasonable condition. 

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “It is clear that the effects of insufficient investment over much of the last decade are going to take some considerable time to rectify. 

“Without local roads that are fit for purpose, the benefits of the Government’s investment in national transport infrastructure may never be fully realised.”

Bizley believes “bold and imaginative action is required” to address the underlying deficiencies in local roads. 

“Existing funding arrangements are complex with central and local government sharing the cost,” he said. “While £6 billion has been allocated by the DfT for the period 2015-2020 for local road maintenance and development, and further funding is available through the Local Growth Fund, the RAC would like to see local roads given the same priority and treated as a strategic asset.” 

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