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Plague of potholes: Long-term funding settlement essential to local roads maintenance

1 July 2019

A front-loaded, five-year funding settlement is the only way local authorities will be able to address a deteriorating local roads network and plan ahead, says the Transport Committee.

Deteriorating local roads

The Committee's latest report, Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap, addresses the extreme state of disrepair of the English local road network.

Potholes are a headache for everyone and a severe risk for many, says the Report. A deteriorating local road network undermines local economic performance and results in direct costs to taxpayers, either through rising costs of deferred work or through a mend and make do approach that does not represent good value for money in the long-term. It also damages vehicles and causes injuries to passengers, particularly those with existing medical conditions.

Safety compromised

The safety of other road users, especially cyclists, is seriously compromised. Pedestrians and those who are older or vulnerable, can be left feeling anxious and isolated, afraid to leave their own homes.

Squeezed funding priorities

However, local government revenue funding has fallen by about 25% since 2010. With no ring-fencing for local roads funding, cash-strapped authorities have diverted the money to plug other gaps such as social care. Lack of funding certainty has caused many councils to take short-term, reactive decisions on road maintenance, which is less effective than proactive maintenance and undermines local economic performance. 

The Committee warns that extracting a five-year settlement from the Treasury should not be an excuse to cut funding. The exact nature of the settlement should be developed following consultation with local authorities to ensure the funding is designed in a way that will be most useful for them, says the Report. It should encourage innovation, collaboration and good practice.

Road conditions should be easier to report

The Department for Transport publishes basic data on road conditions and has begun work on collecting and publishing further data.  The Committee believes that the DfT should make it easier for the public to report road concerns and to access real-time updates on road conditions. 

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said:

““Local roads are the arteries of our villages, towns and cities, but most people won't have to go further than the local shops to spot a pothole that poses a risk of injury or damage.

“Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services. This is not an isolated example – it's been a common thread in our other recent inquiries on buses and active travel. Now is the time for the Department to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.

“Almost every journey begins and ends on local roads: the DfT must work with the public and local authorities to make them safe.”

Further information

Image: © Christine Johnstone (cc-by-sa/2.0)