Hampshire County Council is to develop a Highways Network Recovery Strategy for managing the future maintenance of the county’s roads and footways in the face of unprecedented challenges facing the highways service, largely as a consequence of a long-term under-investment in local roads highway maintenance by successive Governments
At a public decision meeting, held last week, the County Council’s Executive Member for Highways Operations, Councillor Russell Oppenheimer, received a report setting out the range of cumulative factors severely affecting the effective delivery of highways maintenance. The report warned that additional, and sustained, funding will be required if the county’s road network is to be kept in serviceable condition.
The County Council’s report states there is evidence nationally, that for every extra £1 spent on highways maintenance, benefits to the local economy can be in the region of £7 – £10 by ensuring safer, more reliable journeys and lower operating costs.
Councillor Russell Oppenheimer said: “It is clear from this report there are many elements that are having a negative impact on the highways service’s ability to maintain the county’s roads at an optimum level. I fully support the move to develop a strategy for mitigating and alleviating that impact, within the means available to us.
“It is vital that we do all that we can to keep the condition of as many of our 5,500 miles of road to a good standard – this is important in enhancing the quality of life for those who live, work and visit Hampshire, contributing to sustainable economic growth and social equality by enabling the safe, reliable and efficient movement of people, goods and services.
“Road condition affects all users including cyclists, pedestrians and bus passengers as well as cars, motorcyclists and freight vehicles. As we have previously highlighted, Government funding for new transport infrastructure is always welcomed, but it is crucial that the importance of maintaining the local road network is properly recognised – especially when taking account of the fact that 90% of journeys in Hampshire are made on this network. This is ever more important as we work to recover from COVID-19.
“National funding from Government for local road repairs and maintenance has fallen in real terms and much of the local network, particularly in rural areas, is in a state of accelerating decline. I know that local authorities up and down the country are in the same position and I am mindful of the Local Government Association’s report, earlier this year, highlighting that, nationally, 9.5 million more potholes could be repaired with the funding that has been cut from road maintenance budgets.
“At the beginning of July, I and my Cabinet colleagues welcomed the prospect that the County Council’s current financial position could allow for an extra one-off investment of £3 million in routine highways maintenance this year, and this is in addition to the £10 million already allocated year-on-year to Operation Resilience, the County Council’s established programme to make our roads more resilient to the impacts of bad weather and heavy traffic. However, this local investment is still not enough to reverse the declining condition of our county roads, which has been exacerbated by more than a decade of under-funding from central Government.”
Work to develop the Highway Network Recovery Strategy will commence immediately and be reported back to the Executive Member for Highways Operations later in the year.