The Government has announced the first £50M of its new £250M Pothole Action Fund. This might sound more like a parish project than a national initiative from a Government on the world stage but there is a serious national crisis in road maintenance to be addressed. Potholes furnish some comedy photo ops, but for communities and the councils who serve them, it’s no laughing matter.
The Local Government Association reports that the current backlog of road maintenance would cost £12 billion to fix and would take up to 14 years to clear. Flood damage, storms and snow from earlier this year have added further to the repair list.
So while we welcome any funding for pothole repairs, the £50M is not going to solve the problem.
We'd like to see funds diverted from costly new roads to maintain the ones we've already got, and to ensure that funding earmarked for road repairs works for all road users.
Potholes aren’t just a motorists’ problem: bus passengers suffer too and cyclists most of all – including at least one fatal crash this year. Cycling UK reports that 12% of cyclists to whom they provide assistance on accident claims have fallen foul of poor road maintenance, with one road defect on average for every 110 metres of road.
The new “roads fund”, announced in last year’s Budget, is the Government’s response, ringfencing Vehicle Excise Duty for expenditure on road maintenance. The £250M promised over five years is starting with £50M for 118 county and unitary authorities. The numbers sound big but as the Local Government Association has pointed out, councils need more than 230 times that amount to cover the £11.8 billion road maintenance backlog. Communities will want to see that funds allocated to the new combined authorities are fairly allocated to each local area. And Londoners are not getting any extra for the capital's roads: the boroughs receive funding from Transport for London and this is not being topped up by the new potholes fund.
Local councils have been shifting spend within limited budgets from patching individual potholes to resurfacing sections of road: but this does not necessarily include the full range of improvements needed to create safe and sustainable transport corridors, nor is there enough funding in total to address the repairs backlog.
Instead of wasting billions of pounds on motorway building schemes that will clog up our cities with more congestion and pollution, the Government could make a real difference to communities across the country by reversing the starvation of funding for the transport people use every day - including buses, cycling and local road maintenance.
We believe all Government funding for road maintenance must:
- Include local roads – funding for local highways authorities, not just the Strategic Road Network which already has the lion’s share of public road spending
- Follow the principle of “fix it first” – the fund should give priority to improve existing transport corridors, rather than create new roads which will simply generate more traffic
- Serve all road users – take the opportunity to improve transport corridors for buses, coaches, pedestrians and cyclists, joinng up with the Government's Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy
- Create a better environment - fund measures to improve safety, reduce congestion and tackle air pollution for road users and the communities around them
- Live up to localism - devolve the Vehicle Excise Duty generated in their areas to Transport for London, Transport for the North and similar bodies for local allocation.
We are keen to hear from you how the new funds are being used in your area. In the meantime, keep reporting those potholes.