Memorandum by BRF (RM 02)
ROAD MAINTENANCE INQUIRY
BRF is a business organisation representing
users and providers of the road network in the United Kingdom.
It is the only independent body dedicating its entire activity
and resources to this task. Directly and indirectly, through the
many trade associations that are members, BRF has the support
of tens of thousands of companies in many sectors of the economy.
BRF concentrates its activities on seven core
to campaign effectively for a higher
quality of service from UK road systems;
to collect and present data aimed
at monitoring progress towards higher standards of service from
the road network;
to contribute towards the setting
of higher service standards;
to promote and manage research aimed
at identifying areas in which service standards are in need of
improvement and to propose solutions;
to focus attention on the following
specific areas of service:
journey time reliability;
to support the provision of public
transport, cycling and pedestrian facilities; and
to support a new or improved road
where that is the best solution to a transport problem.
In the 1997 White Paper A New Deal for Transport,
the Government announced that its priority for the road system
is to make "best use of the roads we already have".
This means that the maintenance for existing roads is of the highest
importance. For many years BRF has argued that road maintenance
budgets have been inadequate and evidence over recent years has
confirmed that BRF was correct in giving a priority to this issue
in its activities. The Government have promised additional resources
in its 10-Year Plan for transport, announced in the summer of
2000, to address the road maintenance backlog which has accumulated
in recent years.
Good maintenance is essential to protect the
investment already made in roads, to make the most efficient use
of our roads, to ensure that the road users have a safe and comfortable
journey and to minimise intrusion for those who live or work in
close proximity to roads. There is also concern that as the motorway
and trunk road improvement programme has been scaled back, traffic
is diverting onto less congested alternative routes adding to
wear and tearand the maintenance backlogon roads
lower down the hierarchy.
Road maintenance has implications for all five
criteria under which the Government's integrated transport policy
is to be assessed.
The main cause of accidents is driver error,
with other primary causes being road layout and road surfaces.
A particular concern is that the carriageway should have a rugous
surface. This should prevent dry skids and, by allowing water
to drain away, greatly diminish skidding in wet weather. The restoration
of skid resistance to road surfaces is a major aim in preventative
maintenance. In 1999, 14 per cent of all accidents involved skidding
vehicles, 18.3 per cent in wet conditions.
Poor maintenance can promote accidents in other
ways. Examples of this are un-repaired safety barriers permitting
head on crashes on dual carriageways, potholes causing vehicle
deviation, longitudinal imperfections which cause stability problems
for motorcyclists and cyclists and inadequate grass cutting near
road junctions causing poor visibility.
There is another form of accident which is not
classified as a road accident. This is injury to pedestrians due
to tripping on the lip of a paving slab or on an uneven surface.
Falls of this nature are a particular problem for elderly and
disabled pedestrians and can have severe consequences.
Much of our road system runs adjacent to buildings
where people live and work. Poorly maintained road surfaces can
affect residents in two ways. Firstly, vehicular noise is enhanced
by very rough surfaces and is often caused by badly reinstated
trenches. The effect of this is particularly marked from unladen
heavy goods vehicles at night. The second effect is on buildings.
Poor surfaces transmit vibration to adjacent structures and this
in turn affects people living and working in them.
A large proportion of public land is in the
form of carriageways, footways and verges. Its condition is a
visible mark of the way a community is run. An untidy appearance
is debilitating to people living near such roads and to people
using them. Marked deterioration such as frequent potholes is
often an indication of economic decline.
Roads are normally continually open and repairs
can only be carried out by excluding road users from part of the
carriageway. This causes congestion. Lack of maintenance can cause
the edge of carriageways to collapse, potholes to appear and longitudinal
surface rutting to become noticeable. In these circumstances drivers
may divert onto other roads thus putting more pressure on the
Roads are used for more than car and lorry journeys
and buses are just as vulnerable to the problems caused by road
maintenance in terms of accidents and congestion, as well as the
poor maintenance of waiting facilities which can damage the image
of public transport. Cyclists, like all two-wheeled-vehicle users,
are particularly at risk from potholes and longitudinal rutting.
A poor pavement surface and poor crossing facilities can also
present difficulties for pedestrians, in the worst cases making
journeys on foot an impossibility.
For the economy to run efficiently its public
infrastructure must be able to be used effectively. There is a
spectrum of opinion about the value which industry and commerce
places on the provision of additional transport facilities and
its importance in the siting of new or relocated premises. There
is however, no doubt about the need for the proper and efficient
maintenance of the facilities which are therewhether public
transport of road provision. The investor from abroad may not
be concerned whether the dual carriageway approach to the potential
site has two or three lanes, but if the existing road surface
is uneven and potholed then this will not inspire confidence and
is a really negative factor.
Vehicles are now built much more robustly than
they were even a decade ago, but the surface characteristics of
pavements do affect vehicles and their performance. Fuel consumption,
tyre wear and fatigue to vehicle parts will inevitably be higher
on uneven surfaces.
Recent evidence shows that maintenance on Britain's
roads has been inadequate. A report in 1997 from the House of
Commons Transport Committee stated:
"The overwhelming message from the evidence
we have received is that spending on national and local road and
bridge maintenance has been insufficient to maintain these important
national assets in good condition. We are concerned that future
levels of spending will be too low".
Although this conclusion was rejected by the
then Government, more recent evidence has confirmed the Committee's
fears. The National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (NRMCS)
Defects Index for 1999
showed that the condition measured across all types of road was
the worst since national measurements were first published in
the mid-1970s. The survey also revealed that after several years
of improvement the structural condition of motorways, trunk and
principal roads was starting to deteriorate. However, even these
results may underestimate the extent of the problem. Research
by the County Surveyors' Society (CSS) has shown that the methodology
used in the NRMCS results in a time-lag of three to four years
before the implications of expenditure changes are fully reflected
in the indicesthus the expenditure reductions since 1994-95
may only be recorded over the next few yearsand by recording
average results parts of the network with particularly bad results
tend to be disguised.
Estimates of the backlog of maintenance on the
trunk road system are more difficult to find. The Highways Agency
has stated that its network has a capital value of about £75
billion and on its present budget maintenance expenditure is equivalent
to well under 1 per cent of this amount. This is clearly a level
far below that which most companies would budget to maintain their
Evidence of neglect is apparent even to the
untrained eye. Signs indicating slippery road surfaces have been
posted on the M6 and wheel track rutting can be observed on inner
lanes of the M3, M11 and M25, especially apparent as the surface
dries after rain. Indications are much more overt on local roads
where potholes, bald patches and sunken trenches can be noted.
The misshape of many of our local roads has also been noticeable
after recent heavy rain as they are often not self draining.
The Government has reacted positively to this
evidence of a backlog by stating that maintenance will be a priority
and has allocated additional resources totalling £700 million
for road maintenance over the three-year period 1999-2000 to 2001-02.
However, whilst this is welcome it is insufficient to restore
spending in real terms to the level it was at in the early/mid
1990s and hence it is unlikely to be adequate to deal with the
maintenance backlog that has built-up over recent years. Surveys
undertaken by the Institution of Civil Engineers
and the Refined Bitumen Association
both point to backlogs on the local road network totalling in
the order of £4 to £5 billion at the end of 1997. This
is against annual expenditure on these roads of about £1.9
billion. Although the situation varies between highway authorities
it is becoming increasingly common for them to report maintenance
cycles of up to 200 years on present budgets.
On 13 November 2000 the Transport Minister announced
the capital maintenance settlement for local roads in England
for 2001-02 and 2002-03. This will see expenditure for repairing
local roads rise from £264 million this year to £535
million in 2001-02 and £555 million in 2002-03. For the remaining
three years of the Local Transport Plan period (2003-04 to 2005-06)
local authorities will receive at least 75 per cent of their settlement
The money for capital maintenance covers principal
roads, bridges, footways, and (for the first time) non-principal
roads. This money is additional to revenue expenditure on maintenance
(which covers clearing snow, cleaning drains, grass cutting etc.)the
highway maintenance Standard Spending Assessment (HMSSA)which
is announced in April. However, unlike the HMSSA, the capital
budgets are ring-fenced and must be spent on addressing the capital
The Government calculate that the backlog of
expenditure on carriageway, footway, bridge, and street lighting
maintenance will reach £7 billion over the next ten years.
It is expected that these new resources will help restore 270,000
km of local roads, 52,000 bridges and 223,000 km of footways.
REGIONAL CAPITAL ALLOCATIONS FOR LOCAL ROAD
MAINTENANCE (IN £ THOUSANDS)
|North East Region||21,048
|Yorks and Humberside||39,661
|South West Region||32,403
|South East Region||42,046
|North West Region||48,194
|1 This money refers to earmarked resources for ongoing major maintenance schemes in Bedfordshire, Devon, and Portsmouth or for new major maintenance schemes in Newcastle and Dalton.
This increase does appear to constitute genuine additional
money. The inclusion of capital maintenance for non-principal
roads within the capital budget for the first time does not appear
to be offset by reductions in other budgets, such as HMSSA. In
fact, DETR figures show that HMSSA will also rise over the next
two years. The extra funding was fed in via the LTS because tackling
the backlog is a specific exercise of a capital nature. The figures
for HMSSA and the LTS over the past 10 years is as follows:
LOCAL AUTHORITY HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE PROVISION AND OUTTURN
1993-94 TO 2002-03 (£MILLION CASH)
|1 Excluding London
The budget for 2001-02 is double that for 2000-01, and will
see over £1 billion spent over the next two years to tackle
the maintenance backlog. It is this rate of increase in investment
that BRF and others said would be necessary to help achieve a
road network to rival any in Europe.
In the light of this evidence, BRF would promote the following
the higher priority given to road maintenance
by the Government needs to be sustained. Improving current conditions
can only be addressed by a long-term strategy that commits additional
funds. A significant step in the right direction has been made
with the extra money promised for road maintenance in the 10-Year
Plan, and already delivered in the capital maintenance settlement
for local roads for 2001-02 and 2002-03. However, this will need
to be increased yet further if the maintenance backlog is to be
cleared over the course of the Plan;
the impact of poor road maintenance on the environment
needs to be given a higher priority. BRF's report Old Roads
to Green Roads demonstrated
the impacts of a poor road environment and developed examples
of good practice in the upgrading and enhancement of roads;
the NRMCS has a number of statistical weaknesses
that undermine its ability to adequately reflect conditions on
the network. The establishment of more reliable data collection
on road conditions must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The
lack of agreed national road condition standards makes it difficult
to evaluate the scale of the current maintenance crisis. The setting
of agreed standards for maintenance condition should be given
a high priority;
road maintenance has been regarded as a "Cinderella"
service for some considerable time and more efforts are necessary
to ensure that talented people are attracted into it. This means
that the standing of those working in the road maintenance sector
needs to be fully recognised and enhanced. Training is essential
at all levels and the introduction of National Vocational Qualifications
should greatly assist this process;
road maintenance causes disruption to the network
and can be the source of complaints. It is essential that work
is carried out speedily, effectively and that all agencies work
in concert. The fact that responsibility for maintenance is divided
between many authorities can create problems. Greater emphasis
must be given to the co-ordination of the activities of those
agencies that work on the road network;
the maintenance and improvement of the road network
is a long-term commitment. There are materials and techniques
available to ensure that roads do perform better for longer. It
is essential that investment decisions are based on the costs
over the lifetime of the asset; and
the creation of a Roads Inspector to monitor the
condition of the network and spread best practice, and the introduction
of rigorous performance indicators and targets to ensure higher
standards of maintenance work.
Central governments are continually called on to devote more
resources to the services they fund. In areas such as health,
real term increases are needed year on year to keep up with rising
standards. Road maintenance is a service where this does not apply.
Once the backlog referred to in this paper is cleared then the
applications of proven practice and new techniques can cut future
costs in real terms. This is one of the few public services where
the application of funds for so called investment is just that,
and where it can produce quantifiable returns.
First Report of the Transport Committee, Session 1996-97 (The
Road and Bridge Maintenance Programme) HC 105. Back
DETR April 2000, National Road Maintenance Condition Survey:
ICE, 1999 Local Transport Survey. Back
RBA, Annual Local Authority Maintenance (ALARM) Survey.
Landor Publishing 1999. Back