ALARM Survey 2021 – Maintenance budgets up, but inconsistent funding not a long term solution, hears Highways Voices

Average highway maintenance budgets were up by 15% on average in England last year although were below the levels reported in 2019, citing a continued pattern of inconsistent levels of funding, making it difficult for councils to plan longer term, according to this year’s Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM Survey.

Listen to the thoughts of AIA Chair Rick Green here.

Welsh local authority budgets were up by 22% on average while London saw a small increase of 1.2%. As a result, more potholes were filled (13,298 for England) on average per local authority last year, with 3,967 filled on average in Wales and 2,634 in London. Local authorities have also worked hard to increase the amount of sustainable products used. The percentage of councils responding to the survey revealed that 61% had used warm mix asphalt and 82% were using recycled materials and 33% were choosing materials with the lowest initial carbon footprint, alongside 85% selecting surfacing materials with longer life.

The survey said however, the bill to fix the backlog is still in excess of £10 billion, meaning roads are resurfaced once every 68 years on average. It said: “The increased number of potholes filled is a reflection of the reduced investment in programmed work, which has resulted in poorer road conditions. Filling potholes isn’t a victory; it’s a failure.” According to the survey results, the Overall Road Condition Index showed that 60% roads were in green condition, 31% in amber and 9% in red against a target of 67% green, 25% amber and 8% red. Local authorities in England and Wales said that the ideal profile of road condition should be 73% green, 21% amber and 6% red. From a structural point of view, overall, around 54% if the local road network is reported to be in good condition, with 29% in adequate condition and 17% in poor.

Speaking about the survey on this week’s Highways Voices podcast from Highways News, Rick Green, Chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance said: “With a lot of competing funding requirements in a year like no other, the fact that on average local authorities in England received 15% for their highway maintenance budgets should be applauded. But this funding was lower than 2019 and it is this constant changing of funding levels is part of the problem, leading to the fact that the local authorities basically have a significant shortfall in the amount of funding that they believe they require.”

“We filled a 1.7 million potholes, which is one every 19 seconds but actually, filling potholes is a symptom of a poorly maintained road in the first place. They get expensive and they are wasteful. So, the fact that we’ve done more potholes is stopping people driving into them. But actually, it’s not a good indicator that the amount of potholes have gone up.”

He also said that a more ‘streamlined’ competitive funding process would save local authorities time, money and resources on bidding. Mr Green also called for a five-year funding settlement that would enable highway authorities to plan more effectively. “A five-year Government funding package, similar to the commitment made to the strategic network in the two Roads Investment Strategy periods, would allow local authority highway asset managers to plan ahead, invest in, and implement a more sustainable, cost effective whole life approach to maintaining our local roads.”

The podcast also features a summary of some of the top stories on Highways News this week, and “Adrian’s Accolade”, giving special commendation to a person or organisation due for praise for something they’ve done this week.

Responding to the survey, Will Britain, President of the Local Council Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG), said: “The findings of the most recent ALARM survey once again provide evidence that there must be a move to long-term
funding for local roads. Longer term planning is key to enable more efficient and effective planning and delivery.

“Whilst many of our members would have welcomed the additional funding from central Government it is still not enough to maintain the long-term resilience of roads. Authorities would welcome the necessary funding required to maintain and improve the assets and networks they are responsible for. Having access to a long-term funding pot would allow them to prioritise accordingly for the benefit of all road users.

“At LCRIG we will continue to play our part in encouraging innovation and collaboration amongst local authorities and the supply chain. We will also continue to lobby Government so that the work of local highway teams is recognised and reflected through funding which will subsequently ensure that road users see improved highways maintained to a standard that people expect and deserve.”

Nicholas Lyes, RAC head of roads policy, said: “The AIA’s report lays bare the pressure on local authorities who are grappling with crumbling road surfaces. On the one hand additional money allows them to fix potholes but the inconsistent nature of this funding often means they focus
on short-term quick fixes rather than preventing them from occurring in the first place. Worryingly, the report estimates a £10bn one-off cost simply to get our local roads back to a reasonable state.

“Potholes are a nuisance and not only cause expensive vehicle damage but can also lead to serious injury or even worse. Without a long-term approach to local road maintenance funding, similar to what we already have for strategic roads, we face our roads remaining in a perpetually poor state. The Government must now change tack and ring-fence a
small proportion of existing fuel duty revenues over a five-year period so that local authorities are able to plan routine maintenance properly and get our local roads up to a fit and proper standard.”

Paul Fleetham, managing director of Tarmac Contracting, commented: “Well maintained local roads underpin our communities and economies, support improved social outcomes, whilst also being central to encouraging people to take greener forms of transport – and so getting these back up to a good standard is critical to “building back better”.

“The increase in highways maintenance budgets is a positive step in the right direction, however, it’s essential that this uptick in funding is met with longer-term commitments which will allow local authorities to deliver the most effective asset management approach to essential roads maintenance programmes.

“Enabling a properly funded, proactive approach to our highways will deliver the improvements that are needed to ensure that the local road network – which accounts for 98 per cent of our highways – is no longer treated as a second-class asset.”

(Graphic – Highways News)

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