Memorandum by the AA (RM 15)
Lives are lost by failing to keep roads in proper
conditions. Keeping Britain's roads in a decent, serviceable,
condition is crucial to Britain's economysome 90 per cent
of goods and people move by road.
However, for almost two decades road maintenance
has been a victim of national and local government penny pinching
and irrational economic management. The government has recognised
the problem and capital funds for road maintenance have been increased
and set out over a five-year period. This is welcome. There are
however further actions needed:
Road maintenance funding for revenue
expenditure must be increased.
Authorities who trade long term asset
management for short-term gain should be exposed.
The links between road casualties
and road maintenance standards should be better researched.
The road network should be returned
to its 1980 condition by 2004. If the current capital allocations
prove inadequate, they must be further increased.
The measurement and reporting of
road and bridge condition should now be undertaken by a body independent
of local and national highway authorities. These statistics should
be reliable at individual authority level and form the basis of
The appalling backlog of repairs,
now estimated at around £5 billion should never be permitted
Roads, particularly at local authority level,
have been starved of resources to carry out essential maintenance
funding to maintain the condition of the assets. Nationally, road
condition has fallen to its worst level since records began in
1977. Short-term "savings" have meant putting off what
must be done until tomorrow or skimping. This simply means higher
whole life costs. For example:
deferring road re-construction until
a point beyond its planned life ie when it starts to fail, often
means the re-construction can cost nine times more;
claims for damages against local
councils for highway defects are significant and the value of
these claims is rising.
renewing road markings with paint
rather than thermoplasticpaint wears out more quickly and
is less conspicuous to road users so safety benefits are diluted;
no cutting grass and foliage or cleaning
signs so frequently may stretch a tight budget but everyone sees
the resultan unkempt appearance with unreadable signs leading
to driver confusion and greater accident risk;
During the last decade communities have sometimes
been asked by their local councils whether they prefer street
lights turned off or school classrooms unheated, roads unsalted
or homes for the elderly closed. These dilemmas have been real
and challenging. Inevitably, when tough decisions have been necessary,
it has been politically easier to cut, or limit, road maintenance
budgets because their direct impact on lives and costs is not
An AA survey of County Surveyors conducted in
1997 confirmed that local councils regarded the highway maintenance
budget of significantly less importance than education (81 per
cent less important) social services (77 per cent less important),
fire service (54 per cent less important), waste management (47
per cent less important). Road maintenance budgets were considered
as important as environmental health and more important (54 per
cent more important) than trading standards.
At a macro level, the consequences of decades
of underfunding are serious. Major programmes of renewal and replacement
have been delayed or cancelled. Some of Britain's street lamp
systems, planned to last 30 years, must go on for over a hundred
at the current renewal rate. Many unclassified roads will not
be resurfaced for 400 years at current renewal rates.
In many local authority areas large numbers
of bridges remain unable to carry heavier lorries despite Britain
being given over a decade to comply with EU law. The budget for
this type of repair was £154 million in 1993 but fell to
£81 million in 1998, it rose in 1999 but even then it was
still 27 per cent below the 1993 level.
The latest Institution of Civil Engineer's Local
Transport Survey estimates that Britain's backlog of repairs amounts
to £4.8 billion, and this figure is growing by around £1
The AA's report "Where You Live and
What You Get" looked at regional differences within the
transport system across Britain. It found surprising differences
across a range of transport issues. Road maintenance funding in
particular seems to suffer from irrational distributionand
is almost certainly determined by head of population or road length
rather than maintenance need (see Appendix A).
At a local level the priority given to road
maintenance spending is often determined by political perception
and not measured need. Although the Government sets out the "Standard
Spending Assessment" levels for road maintenance per head
of population, anecdotal evidence suggests many authorities do
not spend even these sums. The results are often clear to see
as a driver passes from one local authority area to another but
the voters never see the consequences explained in terms of increased
risk of death and injury nor the high additional costs they must
pay in later years.
The last detailed DETR statistical report on
road maintenance spending was published in 1993. Since then there
has been massive change to the structure of local government,
highways management and public finance arrangements so it is difficult
to track trends. This combined with the process of condition measurement
means the system has been under strain in recent years. The measurement
and reporting of road and bridge condition should now be overseen
by a body independent of national and local highway authorities.
This body should provide the independent information to ensure
that value for money is being achieved lives are not being put
at risk, and that money is being rationally allocated by need.
Recent announcements in the Ten Year Plan for
transport and the local authorities Local Transport Plan settlement
are welcome. The extra funding which is promised will start to
turn the tide of increasing backlogs in this essential work.
It is essential that increased funding is sustained
and updated in the light of progress and any unplanned events.
For example, severe weather which can inflict further damage on
weakened infrastructure requiring yet further repair work. It
is quite likely that some local authorities which benefited from
the recent increases in grant will see the increases negated by
recent flooding and hard freeze.