The state of the nation’s local roads often hits the headlines and it seems that more must yet still be done to make them fit for purpose, with the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) revealing a backlog of repairs in England and Wales of £12.64 billion.
Despite the fact that average highway maintenance budgets have risen, up four per cent on 2020/2021, the amount of investment in the carriageway has fallen, with the reported backlog climbing by 23 per cent compared to the previous 12 months.
Further findings include the fact that local councils would have required an additional £1 billion in 2021 to reach their own target road conditions, before even addressing the backlog.
In all, one pothole is filled every 19 seconds, while nearly one in five local roads could potentially need to be rebuilt within the next five years. Roads themselves are only resurfaced on average once every 70 years.
AIA chair Rick Green explained that while local authorities may have a legal responsibility to keep the roads safe, they lack the funds to do so “in a cost-effective, proactive way”. This has led to continued decline in the structure of the roads.
“Although surface repairs have a part to play in extending the life of local roads, short-term fixes, including filling potholes, is indicative of a network that is ‘on the edge’ and less efficient and sustainable when it comes to materials usage and whole-life carbon emissions,” he said.
Mr Green continued, noting that the recently announced three-year spend on maintenance in England is a “step in the right direction” but added that it doesn’t go far enough. Significant investment is required around the country to deliver a “safe, resilient sustainable network on which we can all rely”.
The study also revealed that the legacy of inconsistent funding across England and Wales is preventing engineers from providing long-term and cost-effective improvements for local roads. Instead, they are being forced to adopt a more piecemeal strategy, with patch and mend repairs taking place.
Further research from the UK Roads Liaison Group found that investment in the local road network would deliver a wide range of benefits, everything from helping the country achieve net zero and reducing pollution to improving biodiversity, supporting economic growth, helping with climate change adaptation and supporting accessibility and inclusion.
As the organisation emphasised in its report, England’s local road network is fundamental to life, now and well into the future. It is the public sector’s biggest physical asset, valued at nearly half a trillion pounds. Almost every journey begins and ends on a local road and if these roads did not exist, the economy would collapse to near zero.
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