Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (RM 09)



  1.  The Transport Sub-committee of the ETRA Committee has resolved to conduct an inquiry into Road Maintenance. The Sub-committee will consider:

    —  the current state of repair of motorways and trunk roads, and of local authority principal roads;

    —  the steps taken by the Government, Highways Agency and local authorities to ensure that such roads are kept in good repair; and

    —  what further steps should be taken to bring roads in this country up to the best possible standard.

  2.  This memorandum considers these questions in the light of the general policy approach, funding levels and technical and institutional developments. It covers only the situation in England. Road maintenance matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the devolved administrations.


Motorways, trunk and principal road categories

  3.  For strategic and administrative reasons roads are separated into motorway, trunk, and local road categories. Motorways and trunk[7] roads are intended to cater for national and international strategic requirements, and they comprise a network of high quality roads for long distance journeys. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has direct responsibility for these roads (except for 45 km of local authority motorways in urban areas). All other public highways in England are local roads, and are the responsibility of the 149 local highway authorities (county councils, metropolitan districts, unitary authorities, London boroughs and Transport for London). The most important local roads in strategic terms are principal roads. These are defined by the Secretary of State and they complement the motorway and trunk road network.

  4.  Primary routes are a system of signing for long distance traffic (yellow lettering on a green background). The primary route network is formed of trunk roads (but not motorways) and the more important principal roads.

Size of trunk and principal networks and traffic levels

  5.  There are 2,800 km of motorways, 7,700 km of trunk roads and 26,000 km of principal roads in England. Motorways and trunk roads carry 34 per cent of road traffic in vehicle mileage terms, including 59 per cent of the heavy goods vehicle mileage. Principal roads carry 30 per cent of road traffic and 24 per cent of heavy goods vehicle mileage.


  6.  In the next few years about 30 per cent of road network will be transferred to local highway authorities. This will be handed over in good condition and with adequate funding.

Legal Requirements

  7.  Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 places a duty upon all highway authorities to maintain the highways for which they are responsible. Section 58 of the Act provides a defence for highway authorities in an action against them for failing to maintain a highway if they can prove that they had taken reasonable care to secure that the highway was not dangerous for traffic.

Maintenance standards

  8.  The Highways Agency operates the motorway and trunk road network on behalf of the Secretary of State. The Agency follows UK engineering standards for these roads set out in the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB). The standards are designed to ensure a consistent service level and safe highways offering value for money, based on best practice, research and consultation with professional bodies and industry.

  9.  There are no compulsory standards for principal roads, but local authorities in practice tend to use trunk road standards. However, a local authority Code of Good Practice for Highway Maintenance was published in 1989 and is currently under review.

Funding mechanisms

  10.  Motorway and trunk road maintenance is directly funded by central government. Principal road routine maintenance is funded through Revenue Support Grant. An assessment of the need for expenditure by each local authority on highway maintenance to provide a standard level of service is an element of the Standard Spending Assessment. Capital maintenance on principal roads is funded through the Local Transport Plan (LTP) settlement.


  11.  In the 1998 White Paper A new Deal for Trunk Roads in England the Highways Agency was given a key objective for maintenance, namely to give priority to the maintenance of trunk roads and bridges with the broad objective of minimising whole life costs. In Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan the Government undertook to increase funding progressively with the objective of enabling local authorities to eliminate the local road maintenance backlog by the end of the Plan period; to deliver substantial improvements in the condition of local roads; and to maintain them on a basis which minimises costs over time and the disruption caused.

  12.  The concept of minimum whole life costs does not mean that all roads should be provided to "as new" standards at all times. Rather, it means the provision of roads to an optimal condition bearing in mind the volume and speed of traffic that will use them, whilst minimising the costs of maintenance, disruption and capital employed.

  13.  Roads have a finite design life but to achieve that life it is important to carry out the right maintenance treatment at the right time. If this is not done, deterioration will worsen and subsequent remedial work will become more expensive. For example, if a road is not resurfaced when rutting and cracking indicate that it should be, water may penetrate the pavement structure and result in complete reconstruction becoming necessary, at a substantially greater cost than resurfacing. Maintenance work that has not been carried out when it should have been leads to the accumulation of backlogs.

  14.  Table 1 below shows highway maintenance expenditure between 1994-95 and 2003-04. Capital funding indicates structural renewal. Revenue funding indicates routine maintenance, winter maintenance, and street lighting. Figures to 1999-2000 are outturn expenditure; figures from 2000-01 are expenditure provisions.

Table 1

YearMotorways and Trunk Capital Motorways and Trunk Revenue Local Roads Revenue Local Roads Capital London Local Roads Capital Transfer to TfL for former Trunk Roads
1994-95607211 1,723284
1995-96453162 1,725269
1996-97408142 1,712194
1997-98410172 1,658200
1998-99425216 1,721247
1999-2000449252 1,763309
2000-01435 2371,859301
2001-02421244 1,90554532 73
2002-03426 2421,955560 n/a73
2003-04426296 2,005549n/a 73


1.  Local road revenue figures include London throughout.

2.  Other London Figures shown separately from 2001-02.

  15.  The provision for expenditure on motorways and trunk roads in the forthcoming period 2001-02 to 2003-04 has reduced because of the transfer of trunk roads in London to Transport for London; better procurement practices; a reduction in the maintenance requirement for trunk road and motorway bridges resulting from a reassessment of risk; and research showing that a significant proportion of motorways and trunk roads have a longer life than originally expected.



  16.  Road condition has been monitored since 1977 by the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (NRMCS). This survey has two basic elements for monitoring trunk and principal roads—visual condition and structural condition as measured by the deflectograph (see paragraph 19 below). The latest available results are for 1999. The results of the 2000 survey will be available in April 2001.

  17.  Visual condition surveys on trunk roads and principal roads look at rutting, cracking, and surface deterioration to give a measure of surface and structural condition. (As these surveys are carried out on foot, they are not appropriate for motorways.) Visual surveys do not give an absolute indication of condition, but are useful for monitoring trends both within and between different road classes. The results for the last 10 years are shown below in Table 2. The indices show condition trends for various road classes from a base of 100 in 1977. An increase in an index shows deterioration; a decrease shows an improvement in condition. It should be noted that the condition in 1977 may not have been optimal.

Table 2

YearTrunk Rural PrincipalUrban Principal
1977100.0100.0 100.0
198093.389.0 81.2
1985102.598.6 112.7
1989111.2101.6 92.8
1990101.798.0 96.1
1991101.8100.1 101.4
1992102.399.7 119.2
199395.997.7 114.6
199492.092.7 109.5
199589.092.6 107.5
199691.190.0 120.5
199785.591.2 123.7
199890.693.6 122.9
199992.689.4 130.7


  1  Results until 1996 are for England and Wales. Results for 1997-99 are for England only

  18.  The results show that trunk road condition has remained roughly constant since 1994, and is better than the early 90s and the survey's 1977 benchmark. Likewise, rural principal roads have also been in relatively stable condition since 1994 and are appreciably better than the early 90s and the start of the survey. However, urban principal roads have deteriorated sharply since 1995, and are now in their worst condition since the survey began 24 years ago.

  19.  The deflectograph has been used in the NRMCS since 1992. The machine measures the deflection of a flexible (i.e., asphalt) road pavement under a known axle load. From this deflection, and knowing the construction of the road and the heavy goods vehicle flow along it, the ``residual life'' of the pavement can be calculated. When a pavement reaches zero residual life, this does not mean that it is unserviceable. However, its future deterioration will be unpredictable, and it will require close monitoring to determine when major repairs will be required.

  20.  The advantages of deflectograph surveys are that they can be carried out on motorways and that they allow indicative comparisons between road types. Their disadvantages are that they are less applicable to lightly constructed roads or to older roads that were not designed to modern standards (in other words, most non-principal roads), or to concrete or very heavily constructed asphalt roads (an appreciable minority of motorways and trunk roads). Nevertheless, they give a reasonable indication of the condition of our most important roads. Table 3 below shows results for the period 1993-99.

Table 3

NATIONAL ROAD MAINTENANCE CONDITION SURVEY DEFLECTOGRAPH RESULTS: Percentage with zero residual life and requiring close monitoring (%)
YearMotorwaysTrunk Roads Principal Roads
19934.610.7 13.5
19943.89.8 12.8
19953.96.5 12.7
19964.27.4 13.7
19975.87.7 15.4
19984.68.2 15.5
19995.26.9 14.5-14.9

  21.  Over the seven year period motorways have been in consistently better condition than trunk roads, which in turn have been in appreciably better condition than principal roads. While motorways have been fairly stable in condition and trunk roads have improved since the early 90s, principal roads have worsened slightly over the period.


  22.  There are 9,700 bridges on motorways and trunk roads, and about 24,000 on principal roads. The aim of structures' maintenance is to ensure that they are safe, fit for their purpose and maintained at minimum cost over time. Bridges on motorways and primary routes (see paragraph 4 above) were required by EC Directive 85/3/EEC (now 96/53/EEC) to carry 40 tonne vehicles with a maximum 11.5 tonne axle weight by 1 January 1999. This requirement was substantially achieved; the few exceptions will soon be rectified and do not cause any significant disruption.

  23.  Structures are regularly inspected and monitored for signs of deterioration and distress. Strengthening is undertaken, or other safety measures applied to a structure when it is unable to carry the required loading. Any work that relates to ensuring the continuing safety of a structure is termed "essential". Applying preventative measures to a structure, such as the waterproofing of bridge decks, has been shown to delay the need for essential work and reduce whole life maintenance costs.

  24.  All strengthening works on motorway and trunk road bridges work are programmed for completion by 1 April 2001, except where structures are likely to be affected by the Targeted Programme of Improvements or to meet other operational requirements. Nevertheless, the whole programme is expected to be fully complete by 2003.

  25.  Information on principal road bridges comes from the LTP submissions and surveys carried out by the CSS (formerly the County Surveyors' Society). Nearly all assessments of whether these bridges can carry 40 tonne vehicles have been carried out, but about 900 remain to be strengthened. In addition, about 750 are in need of major essential maintenance.

Retaining Walls

  26.  There are 220 km of retaining walls on motorways and trunk roads. On principal roads, there are about 300 km, mainly in the hilly northern and western parts of the country. The LTP submissions have indicated that some retaining walls on principal roads are in need of strengthening and repair, and this problem is being addressed.

Street Lights

  27.  Almost all lighting on motorways and trunk roads conforms to, and is maintained to, national standards. On principal roads, recent estimates by the CSS and the lighting industry indicate that there are about 0.5 million street lighting columns on these roads. Of these, about 125,000 are over 30 years old and 60,000 are in urgent need of replacement. A further 150,000 columns will reach 30 years old over the next 10 years. Since the design life of a modern column is about 25 years, this shows that there is an urgent need to instigate a replacement programme for columns on principal roads.


  28.  The Government has taken several steps already to ensure good repair. The main elements to good maintenance are adequate funding, strategic planning to achieve measurable objectives, adequate technical support systems, and efficient procurement procedures.


  29.  In last year's Comprehensive Spending Review SR2000 and the formulation of the 10 Year Plan for transport, much effort went into identifying the backlogs in maintenance and the funding needs to be able to reach a situation where there was sufficient funding in future to achieve minimum whole life costs.

Motorways and trunk roads

  30.  The Highways Agency collects comprehensive condition data on motorways and trunk roads on a regular basis. This information includes rutting, cracking, bumps, surface texture, skid resistance, and deflectograph measurements. The data is analysed by a computerised Network Model, which was developed by consultants for the Agency and used in estimating funding requirements for SR2000 and the 10 Year Plan. The model was used to estimate the maintenance work required to keep the motorway and trunk road network in a steady condition, taking into account the most economic treatments and minimising disruption to road users. It should be pointed out that these estimates are based on the present state of knowledge and rely upon factors such as future traffic flows and the behaviour of materials that may change over time. The Agency carries out research into traffic predictions, and new materials and techniques, which allow it to update the model as necessary to get better estimates.

  31.  In these analyses, the actual severity of measured defects is compared with the engineering standards. But not all defects will require immediate treatment. For instance, a low skid resistance may be occurring on an open stretch of road where traffic rarely brakes and which has a low accident record. In cases like these, remedial treatments may be delayed until the skid resistance declines further or other defects appear. In other cases, the defects may not be large or extensive enough to justify a viable maintenance scheme. From its records, the Agency can forecast the proportion of the network likely to require actual maintenance compared to the proportion where the condition data indicates maintenance may be required. (In recent years the Agency has not been prevented from carrying out maintenance at the optimum time by funding restraints. Therefore, where a site has been investigated but no treatment resulted, it can be assumed that either no treatment was required or that later treatment would represent better value for money.)

  32.  From the analyses, the Agency has calculated that the motorway and trunk road network condition can be maintained in its present satisfactory level at the future funding levels in Table 1 above. In order to maintain the present standards, the model indicates that at any point in time between 7 to 8 per cent of the network will be in need of actual maintenance. This has been set as a target in the Agency's Business Plan. It should be emphasised that the funding and target relate to maintaining the network in its present condition. The Agency is currently undertaking research to determine what percentage of the network would be left needing maintenance each year in order to minimise whole life costs. That percentage may differ from the present target of 7 to 8 per cent.

Local Roads

  33.  The situation is very different on local roads from that on motorways and trunk roads. They are suffering from the effects of considerable under-investment over many years, and considerable backlogs of maintenance work have built up. In addition, more funding is needed simply to ensure that further deterioration does not occur.

  34.   Roads and footways: The results of the NRMCS over the last three years were examined to estimate the costs of rectifying existing defects using sensible treatments appropriate to the class of the road. The backlog of work was found to be some £2 billion. The breakdown of the backlog was:
Urban principal7%
Rural principal9%
Urban classified47%
Rural classified5%
Urban unclassified17%
Rural unclassified15%

  35.  The breakdown shows that non-principal roads account for 84 per cent of the local road backlog compared to 16 per cent for principal roads, and that urban roads account for 71 per cent of the backlog compared to 29 per cent for rural roads. (These proportions were used in the distribution of capital funds for non-principal roads in the recent LTP settlement.)

  36.  In addition to the £2 billion, an analysis of the relationship between past condition and funding of local roads showed that around an extra £300 million a year was necessary simply to prevent further deterioration.

  37.   Bridges and retaining walls: From the LTP submissions and surveys by the CSS, of the 52,000 bridges on local roads in England about 4,700 still require strengthening to take 40 tonne lorries. In addition 4,100 are in need of major essential maintenance. (Figures for principal roads are given at paragraph 25 above.) The current funding levels will allow the strengthening programme to be completed within five to six years; the essential maintenance backlog, including retaining walls, was estimated at £750 million.

  38.   Street Lights: Surveys by the CSS and the lighting industry showed that there are some five million street lighting columns in England of which 27 per cent are more than 30 years old. Of these 600,000 are in need of urgent replacement. In the next 10 years an additional 1.6 million columns will reach 30 years old. (Figures for principal roads are given at paragraph 27 above.) To tackle the column replacements that are necessary now and over the next 10 years will require approximately £1 billion.

  39.  The total provision for local highway maintenance in the 10 Year Plan is £30.5 billion, including £9.2 billion capital funding and £21.3 billion revenue funding. Compared to current funding levels, this represents an overall increase of £9 billion (41 per cent). Capital maintenance will increase by over £6 billion to tackle the backlogs above and restore optimum conditions by the end of the Plan period. Funding will be progressively increased over the 10 years to allow local authorities and industry to gear up properly and spend wisely.

  40.  The first instalment of the extra funding has been included in the SR2000 provisions and distributed through the LTP capital settlement. In the latter, the indicative provision for maintenance has more than doubled, and for the first time includes extra funding for non-principal roads (over and above that already provided through Revenue Support Grant) as well as principal roads and bridges on all local roads.

Maintenance Strategies

  41.  The Highways agency has been given the strategic aim of maintaining the motorway and trunk road network in a safe and serviceable (available for use) condition whilst minimising costs over time, disruption to road users and others affected, and any adverse impact on the environment. This strategy is further explained in the strategic plan for maintenance published in 2000, "Making Maintenance the Priority".

  42.  As part of their LTP submissions, local highway authorities are required to develop five year maintenance strategies and work programmes for principal road maintenance and bridges. These aim at progressive improvements in condition measured by performance indicators. The strategies are required to relate to other transport objectives and schemes, and take into account the needs of road users and the environment.

  43.  In addition, under the Best Value regime local authorities are required to have plans for all the services that they deliver, including highway maintenance, and to review them at least once every five years. Performance indicators, required to be produced by the authority by statutory regulations, measure the improvements. For maintenance, the indicators require comprehensive surveys of principal roads and visual condition or residual life indices. Other indicators relate to street lighting, removing dangerous highway defects, and the cost of maintaining principal roads. Performance indicators must be published annually, and audited by the Audit Commission. Service reviews automatically trigger an inspection by the Audit Commission.

Technical Support Systems

  44.  The Highways Agency has developed the Highways Agency pavement Management System (HAPMS). This computerised system, which includes the Network Model referred to in paragraph 30 above), has comprehensive procedures and documentation to ensure that the pavement maintenance programme can be delivered in accordance with the Business Plan target. To deliver value for money, individual schemes are assessed to minimise costs over time whilst taking into account the disruption to traffic. The data collection for the system is being improved by the use of high speed vehicles (TRACS) that measure rutting, cracking, surface profile, and surface texture at normal traffic speeds.

  45.  The Agency also has a comprehensive computerised system (Routine Maintenance Management System—RMMS) enabling all inspections, complaints and third party claims to be recorded in conjunction with the inventory, other maintenance actions and relevant data. Standard reports are available to audit the routine maintenance activities.

  46.  The Agency is currently introducing the Structures Management Information System (SMIS) to support new bridge management procedures. SMIS will eventually contain all the key information required to provide a high level view of the performance of the national network's structures at any point in time. It is seen as a starting point around which sustainable maintenance strategies for structures can be developed. When implemented, SMIS will produce a smooth, manageable and sustainable level of maintenance work and expenditure into the foreseeable future.

  47.  DETR in conjunction with the Local Government Association and DOE (Northern Ireland) worked over several years, and provided funding, to produce a computerised system for managing local road maintenance—the United Kingdom Pavement Management System (UKPMS). The system is now in use, or being introduced, by many local highway authorities. It allows standardised collection and assessment of pavement and footway condition data, the prioritisation of maintenance needs, and the development of programmes of work based on economic principles. UKPMS also produces the Best Value condition indicators that authorities are required to provide for their roads.

  48.  The current Local Authority Code of Good Practice for Highway Maintenance was produced in 1989. DETR and the Highways Agency have been working with the Local Government Association and the Northern Ireland, Welsh, and Scottish administrations to produce a new code that is in line with service delivery instead of inputs, and to take account of latest technical and management developments. This new code will be published in early summer this year, and cover pavement and footway maintenance. Last year the CSS and the lighting industry introduced a new Code of Good Practice for Street Lighting.

  49.  Research can produce radical improvements in highway maintenance. Recent examples include thin surfacings, which are much cheaper than conventional surfacing; better recycling techniques for repairing worn out carriageways; and effective and durable noise reducing surfaces.


Maintenance Agencies

  50.  In the past, the maintenance agents for motorway and trunk road maintenance were local highway authorities or firms of consulting engineers in metropolitan areas. There were some 80 agents in total. Since its creation in 1994, the Highways Agency has reduced the number of maintenance agencies to 20, let by competitive tender, mainly to the private sector, for a period of up to five years.

  51.  In addition, the Agency is moving towards performance specified contracts with performance indicators set as benchmarks, whereby the consultant/contractor undertaking Agency work is contracted to achieve at least these minimum standards. Providers are encouraged to achieve "a right first time" approach with a longer-term objective of moving towards self-supervision. Their performance is reviewed and audited and they are encouraged to improve performance, year on year. These contracts are being introduced over the next three years.

Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO)

  52.  The Highways Agency currently operates eight DBFO contracts signed in 1996. These contracts were an early success in the adoption of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in government, and were the first significant PFI activity in DETR. The capital value of these contracts amounted to some £600 million, and the project payments/revenues are in Net Present Terms expected to exceed £1 billion over 30 years. These contracts enabled major capital projects to be delivered significantly earlier than would have been possible with the budgets available at the time, and substantial cost savings are estimated over conventional procurement methods.

  53.  Private sector management offers the opportunity for greater efficiency in maintenance management and cost control while meeting defined performance requirements. A main advantage of DBFO contracts is that contractors are locked into providing a 30 year service. This means that investment decisions are made with this long-term responsibility in mind. Construction, maintenance and refurbishment activities are all driven by this responsibility. This has resulted in some innovative solutions being adopted by DBFO contractors. They were, for example, amongst the first to introduce longer life roads, which minimise traffic disruption caused by roadworks and reduce costs over time.

Best Value

  54.  Historically, local highway maintenance work was done in-house through Direct Labour Organisations. But, beginning in 1980, by 1995 compulsory competitive tendering was required for all local authority highway work, excluding emergency work.

  55.  That regime was changed on 1 April 2000 with the introduction of Best Value. Best Value concentrates on service delivery outputs rather than inputs. For highway maintenance this means that local highway authorities are free to choose the method of procurement (within the grounds of financial propriety and regulation). However, they must plan to achieve continual improvements in highway condition measured against national and local performance indicators. The Audit Commission monitors their plans and performance. The regime actively encourages local highway departments to increase the efficiency of their procurement procedures, and to innovate.

Private Finance Initiative (PFI)

  56.  The Government's encouragement of public sector partnerships with the private sector has lead several local highway authorities to develop PFI maintenance projects. These are eligible for capital credits to support an initial phase of renewal. Seven street lighting projects have been approved, and one project in Portsmouth for the maintenance of the whole of the city's highways over the next 25 years.

  57.  As with DBFO projects, PFI maintenance contracts actively encourage contractors to innovate and seek efficiency gains in their work.


  58.  The measures outlined above in this memorandum show the considerable measures that the Government has already taken to move towards a best possible standard. Outlined below are some of the further planned measures.

Technical Improvements

  59.  There is a need to rationalise the collection of data and the assessment of condition and maintenance needs. Work on this is progressing with a view to common methodologies, particularly for motorways, trunk, and principal roads.

  60.  Rationalisation of data collection would mean that, for instance, information on road condition would only be collected annually by a local highway authority. It would then be used for local management purposes, Best Value indicators, LTP monitoring, and the NRMCS. A consultation relating to this approach regarding the NRMCS is currently taking place.

  61.  New methods of collecting inventory data and condition indicators for bridges and street lighting are being produced. A code of good practice for local authority bridge maintenance is being planned.


  62.  Work is continuing on developing new and better materials and techniques for inspection and maintenance, as well as on environmental improvements such as low noise surfacing and recycling.

Institutional Arrangements

  63.  In the past, projects and initiatives on highway maintenance have been carried forward by project specific groups. DETR is currently consulting the Local Government Association on a more holistic approach. This envisages the setting up of an "umbrella group" for highway maintenance that would report to the existing Local Transport Liaison Group. The new group would pull together the existing groups and initiatives in the field, for example, those for the NRMCS, UKPMS, Best Value indicators, new codes of practice, bridges, street lighting etc. The group would have representatives from DETR, Highways Agency, Local Government Association and Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

  64.  This new arrangement should generate greater efficiency in developing maintenance policy, and ensure that technical and administrative improvements were introduced in a co-ordinated fashion.


24 January 2001

7   Throughout this memorandum "trunk road" means "all purpose trunk road". Back

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