Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by the Freight Transport Association (RM 08)

ROAD MAINTENANCE

  The Freight Transport Association welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee, for its inquiry into road maintenance.

  FTA's 11,000 members operate about 200,000 goods vehicles and almost as many company cars. The level of service provided by the road network is, in terms of reliability and predictability of journey times of cardinal importance in sustaining efficient supply chains for industry—vital for our competitiveness—and effective business communications.

  FTA represents the total freight transport interests of trade and industry, as users of all modes of transport: road, rail, sea and air. FTA's evidence to the Committee represents road users. We do not represent those responsible for providing, maintaining or improving roads.

MAINTENANCE STANDARDS

  The fundamental determinant in relation to road maintenance standards is funding: its adequacy or otherwise, whether for the national motorway and trunk road network or local roads. Historically this has meant that standards of road construction and maintenance have been determined not by rigorous and objective criteria to define requisite funding levels, but by arbitrary judgements related more to short term need and affordability. Over many years this led inevitably to the position in 1999 when the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey showed our road condition was the worst since records began. Other surveys showed that replacement cycles for everyday items like lamp columns were running into centuries. It was also the year when Britain's special 10-year EU derogation to check that our bridges were safe to carry modern traffic loading, including heavier lorries, ended—with over one quarter of the bridge stock not even inspected.

INVESTMENT—WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE

  In announcing his first spending review to Parliament, the Chancellor said of Britain's transport in 1998:

    "anybody who travels on our roads and railways knows that after years of neglected and under-investment Britain suffers from an overcrowded, under-financed and under-maintained transport system."

  In December 1999, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a commitment to a step change in investment levels to address Britain's chronic problems:

    "to transform our transport infrastructure over the next 10 years and make Britain's transport system the rival of any in Europe."

  In July 2000 the Government announced its 10 Year Transport Plan. The Plan provides for significant increases over the next decade in funding for the road network in England, much of the increase focusing on road maintenance. FTA welcomed the 10 Year Plan, but with two important caveats:

    —  the levels of funding committed by Government to restore the nation's roads to first class condition must be delivered; and

    —  even the significant increases in funding, over 10 years, will not match the need, determined by FTA and others.

ASSESSING THE RETURNS FROM MAINTENANCE

  "Stitch in time" programmes of preventative maintenance make financial sense—repairs can cost up to nine times more if they are delayed, excluding the additional costs of delays to travellers when minor repairs turn into major works.

  The standards expected of routine maintenance on trunk roads are set out in a Code of Practice. Similar standards are set for winter maintenance—gritting, salting and snow clearing. Local authorities follow local practices but these are similar to the national models.

  Proper cyclical and preventative maintenance improves safety on the roads and railways. For example ineffective signalling; obscured, broken or illegible signs; poor lighting; worn out skid-resistant surfacing or road markings—all these are key safety components that must be in good order to prevent death and injury.

  The value added by efficient asset management also has dimensions other than financial saving and saving in death and injury costs. Broken streetlights and graffiti strewn streets bring costs to society in other ways. At best they lead to an unpleasant and untidy environment that fosters a downward spiral of litter and filth; at worst they provide an environment where our personal security is threatened.

  But on Britain's streets, the elderly fear injury from tripping over broken paving stones nearly as much as being mugged. Today, some local authorities spend more on claims than they do on repairing the footways.

  A bridge assessment programme has also been underway for some 15 years in order to check and strengthen bridges to meet modern traffic loadings. A special 10 year derogation from the EU to meet this requirement expired in 1999 but a quarter of bridges have yet even to be inspected. Britain has developed a culture of "patch and mend" over the last decade. The computerised systems developed to implement structured programmes of preventative maintenance have fallen into wide disuse in favour of "crisis management".

  As was demonstrated from 1977-80, improvements in road condition can be implemented relatively quickly. A clear target for restoring the condition of Britain's transport assets is needed. Britain's National Road Maintenance Condition Survey shows Britain's road condition is the worst since records began in 1977. A target to restore road conditions to "steady state" by 2004, to its 1980 level or better, is needed and thereafter the level of defects should neither rise nor fall.

  The programme to assess and strengthen bridges should be 95 per cent complete in the same timetable.

NATIONAL ROADS

  The Highways Agency's Strategic Roads 2010, sets out the Agency's high level strategy for our national roads (England) over the next 10 years in response to the Government's Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan.

  FTA welcomes the Agency's commitment to:

    "use to full advantage its professionalism to ensure it delivers a strategic road network that provides for safe and reliable travel and one that is developed and maintained in a way which is responsive and sensitive to the needs of the communities it serves".

  For trade and industry in Britain, with its overwhelming reliance on an efficient road network to underpin its supply chains, this commitment is most welcome. But is must be delivered.

  We note the key short term targets set out by the Highways Agency in Strategic Road 2010:

    —  by 2001, upgrade the existing computer based road pavement asset management system (Highways Agency Pavement Management System);

    —  by 2001, put in place a computer based road structures asset management system (Structures Management Information System);

    —  by 2001, undertake 90 per cent of routine maintenance works on the carriageway at times when the roads are less busy;

    —  by 2002, provide better information, signing and traffic management techniques, where planned maintenance works are likely to cause delays of more than 10 minutes; and

    —  by 2002, upgrade the computer based routine maintenance asset management system (Routine Maintenance Management System).

  We also note and welcome the Agency's concern to ensure that maintenance works are carried out with the minimum impact on its customers. We support the Agency's plans to:

    —  increase the use of mobile lane closures to minimise the time taken and disruption caused during short duration routine maintenance;

    —  provide better information and signing, including initiatives like "zip merging" to minimise unavoidable delays and make queuing more efficient and less frustrating; and

    —  continue to use incentives/penalties to encourage contractors to reduce the time taken to do the work, and thereby minimise the delays to road users.

FUNDING FOR NATIONAL ROAD MAINTENANCE

  The Highways Agency says it will continue to make maintenance its priority over the next 10 years, with a maintenance programme of around £7 billion between 2001 and 2010. While this is a substantial programme FTA is not confident that it will be sufficient to fulfil the Government's pledge to "transform our infrastructure over the next 10 years and make Britain's transport system the rival of any in Europe".

  In May 2000 FTA, in partnership with the AA, CBI and CPT published Investment—what needs to be done: building a transport system to rival any in Europe. The document sets out a review of the major sectors of transport that have to be addressed, with the requisite budgetary framework, to deliver the Government's 10-year pledge. It estimates that, over the next decade, investment of £8.9 billion for national road maintenance and £2.95 billion for national road bridges, totalling £11.85 billion, will be necessary.

  Clearly this is substantially greater than the Highways Agency's £7 billion 10-year investment plan. Continuing vigilance by both the Government and the Highways Agency will be of paramount importance in ensuring that as the Agency rolls out its 10-year maintenance programme it remains on target to deliver the Government's pledge. If it becomes apparent that further increases in funding are necessary to deliver that pledge, the Government must be prepared to contemplate such increases.

LOCAL ROADS

  As mentioned earlier, Britain has developed a culture of "patch and mend" over the last decade, in response to sustained underfunding for long-term maintenance strategies. This has been particularly marked in relation to local roads: 96 per cent of the total road network which is the responsibility of local highway authorities.

  FTA welcomed the doubling in the budget for repairing local roads in England, announced by the Government on 13 November 2000. Five hundred and thirty five million pounds in 2001-02 and £555 million in 2002-03 will be made available to local authorities to spend on highway maintenance—which the Government says will be enough to start restoring:

      270,000 km of local roads;

      52,000 bridges; and

      223,000 km of footways.

  The Government has promised that for the remaining three years of the full five-year Local Transport Plan settlement, authorities will receive at least 75 per cent of their allocation for road maintenance in 2002-03—this commitment will enable authorities to plan their longer-term maintenance strategies with confidence.

  However, while FTA welcomes both the significant increase for funding of local road maintenance, and the Government's longer-term commitment, there remains the question as to whether this will be sufficient to enable local authorities to fulfil their role in delivering, for the 96 per cent of the network for which they are responsible, a transport system the rival of any in Europe.

  FTA maintains a database of key indicators within the Local Transport Plans produced by local authorities in Britain. In England, of 63 LTPs examined by FTA, covering the period 2001-02 to 2005-06, 36 authorities expressed concern about inadequate funding for road maintenance, and 32 authorities expressed concern about inadequate funding for the bridge assessment and strengthening programme.

  We hope that the significantly increased funding now available for local road maintenance will enable the rapid and sustained progress in local road condition which is so urgently needed. We have already referred to the estimates of funding required for national roads over the next 10 years. The same document, Investment—what needs to be done, estimates that over the next decade £32 billion will be required for local road maintenance. This is substantially greater than is currently planned, even with the significant increases announced by Government. As with national roads it will be of paramount importance to ensure that the step changes needed to improve the condition of local roads are delivered and sustained—and the funding necessary provided.

DE -TRUNKING

  The Government announced, in A New Deal for Trunk Roads, that about 10 per cent of the existing trunk road network in England will be progressively de-trunked, with responsibility for maintenance and improvement transferred to the relevant local authority.

  FTA understands there is continuing concern by local authorities that transfer to them of new responsibilities for maintenance and improvement of de-trunked roads may not be accompanied by the necessary increase in funding. This is potentially of serious concern to FTA as the Government has stated that routes to be de-trunked will retain their primary route status: they will remain part of the national strategic road network. The entire primary route network comprises all non-motorway trunk roads together with a substantially greater and complementary network of non-trunk principal roads. All primary routes, trunk and non-trunk, are indicated by the familiar green primary route signing and as such are indistinguishable to the driver.

  The primary route network is effectively the national strategic network for lorries and it is essential that those parts of the trunk road network to be de-trunked not only retain their primary route status, but are adequately funded, to enable local authorities assuming responsibility for them to maintain and improve them as consistent with their continuing role as part of the national strategic network.

UK DIMENSION

  FTA appreciates that the Committee's inquiry relates to road maintenance in England. However, the road network in England is an integral part of the network across Britain and indeed the UK, with vehicle ferries linking the mainland network to Northern Ireland. FTA's concerns and aspirations regarding the network in England extend to the network throughout the UK.

SUMMARY

  This evidence is from FTA, representing road users, not those responsible for providing, maintaining or improving roads.

  Road maintenance funding must be determined by need, not arbitrary, short term considerations of affordability.

  The Government has promised to transform our transport infrastructure over the next 10 years and make Britain's transport system the rival of any in Europe. This is reflected in the Highways Agency's 10-year strategy for national roads in England.

  The Government must ensure that the Highways Agency is enabled by adequate funding and resources, to deliver its 10 year pledge.

  FTA welcomes the significant increase in funding for local roads. However, this may still be insufficient to enable restoration of the local road network to first class condition over 10 years.

  Where local authorities are assuming responsibility for roads to be de-trunked, this must be accompanied by sufficient funding to enable their continuing maintenance and improvement commensurate with their role as primary routes.

  While the Committee's inquiry is concerned with road maintenance in England, the issues extend to the road network throughout the UK.

  Note:  The following sources have been relied on in producing this evidence.

    Investment—what needs to be done. Joint report by the FTA, AA, CBI and CPT.

    Strategic Roads 2010. Highways Agency.

January 2001


 
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Prepared 18 July 2001