Councils need £14bn and 11 years to fix ‘international embarrassment’ of England’s pothole pandemic

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100,000 miles of carriageway at risk of needing entirely rebuilt without better funding

More than £14 billion is now needed to tackle the road repair backlog in England and Wales, according to a new report.

As experts warn of a “pothole plague”, new figures show that the cost of simply bringing local roads up to target standards has jumped by 11% in the last year while the gap between actual funding and what is needed has grown even further.

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Data from the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s (AIA) annual Alarm suvey shows that the gap between what local authorities received and what they said they would have needed to keep roads to their own target conditions is now £1.3bn - a 20% jump over the previous year. It also shows that it would take 11 years just to bring roads in England and Wales up to a standard where they won’t keep deteriorating.

Motoring groups called the situation an “international embarrassment” and urged the government to provide major investment for a long-term solution rather than simply patching existing problems.

The annual AIA report gathers data on road conditions, maintenance and funding from councils across England and Wales to determine a picture of the overall state of local roads. It found that while half of roads are in “good” structural condition almost 20% - £37,000 miles - are thought to have less than five years of structural life left.

It also estimated that bringing roads up to maintainable standards would cost £14.02bn. Rick Green, AIA chair, said that while an extra £200 million in maintenance funding announced in the Budget was to be welcomed it would do little to tackle the massive pothole problem.

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He said: “Highway engineers can only do so much with the resources they are given and should be applauded for the steps they take to keep roads safe. Potholes and the condition of our local roads remain key issues for the public and the Chancellor went someway to recognising this in his spring Budget. But the additional £200m one-off payment represents around 20% of the average shortfall in English local authorities’ annual budgets and will do  little to improve overall structural conditions and stem further decline.

“We all appreciate that there are difficult choices to make with demands and pressures on the public purse but not investing in local road maintenance only leads to worsening conditions, which impact on other locally provided public services.”

A report by Kwik-Fit estimates that potholes have caused £1.7bn of damage in the last year (Photo: Adobe Stock)A report by Kwik-Fit estimates that potholes have caused £1.7bn of damage in the last year (Photo: Adobe Stock)
A report by Kwik-Fit estimates that potholes have caused £1.7bn of damage in the last year (Photo: Adobe Stock) | (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The report also found that on average roads are only resurfaced once every 116 years and that more than 100,000 miles of council-maintained roads are at risk of needing entirely replaced in the next 15 years unless they receive appropriate maintenance.

The news comes as a separate report from car maintenance specialists Kwik Fit showed that pothole damage had forced almost 2.7m cars off the road in the last year and had cost drivers a total of £1.7bn in repairs.

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The Local Government Association said that inflation and historic funding cuts had left councils struggling to cope and called for long-term funding to allow preventative measures as well as fixing existing problems. Its transport spokesperson, Cllr David Renard: said: “It is alarming that councils’ repair backlog has grown and this has become increasingly challenging to tackle. To improve the condition of our roads, the government should provide a funding increase for councils, including meeting new inflationary pressures.”

The RAC’s head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes said the figures made for “terrible reading” but “will come as no surprise to anyone who is forced to endure our pothole-plagued roads on a daily basis”.

He added: “We’ve long campaigned for a more sustainable form of funding that allows councils to replace roads that are at the end of their useful lives. Sadly, everyone but the government appears to recognise this. This is why the government’s eternal emphasis on filling potholes is so frustrating as it’s simply treating the symptoms, and not dealing with the root cause.”

The AA’s head of roads policy, Jack Cousens, added: “The condition of some of our roads is an international embarrassment and it needs a concerted effort and investment to halt the decline.

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“National and local politicians have failed to look after their biggest and most important asset for years. Years of sticking plaster solutions haven’t solved the problem, so it’s now time for serious investment and serious action.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are investing more than £5 billion from 2020 to 2025 into local highways maintenance, and recently announced an extra £200m at the Budget to fix millions of potholes a year.

“This will help make journeys smoother and safer for all, repair dozens of bridges, and resurface roads up and down the country.”

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