The Government has announced new funds to help deal with the enormous pothole problem around the UK that is widely accepted and welcomed by all. However, the £100 million set aside for the repairs is ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to the estimated £9 billion needed to fix the UK’s roads urgently, say the RAC.
The UK road system is effectively wearing out. Ten years of austerity cuts to normal investment levels (pre-2008) means upgrading road repairs has fallen to such a degree that the tarmac is losing its strength and falling apart. The cold snap of weather in early 2018 has simply accelerated and exposed the fragility of a road system that needs massive investment to repair or replace.
The new funding was announced this week by Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, following a period of severe weather that has caused more damage to the UK’s roads and footpaths. Mr Grayling said the £100 million cash injection would pay for around two million potholes to be filled.
In the announcement, he confirmed that the unusually severe spell of freezing weather has caused much damage to roads and that local councils need more funding to help deal with the problem. The aim is to help motorists and cyclists make their journeys without continually dodging potholes or serious road accidents.
While the Local Government Association (LGA) were pleased with the move, there was guarded optimism in the movement to deal with what is a much bigger problem. According to the LGA, the cost of fixing all the potholes in England and Wales alone would cost more than £9 billion.
Martin Tett, the LGA transport spokesman, said that it is a positive move that the Government has listened to local councils and made more funding available to repair the roads affected by the recent harsh weather. However, the funding is only 1% of what is needed to deal with the overall road condition problems.
The response from the RAC was along the same lines. Head of roads policy, Nicholas Lyes, said: “The announcement was welcome, and that the money would boost local council’s ability to deal with crumbling roads”. However, their data shows that patrols were attending over 200 breakdowns a day relating to potholes in the week after the cold snap.
Fatal cyclist problem
The RAC also has estimated that £9 billion is needed to deal with the issues in road conditions and view this new money as ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to what is needed. They also highlight the dangers of poor quality road surfaces including expensive damage to cars and even the potential to be fatal to cyclists.
This case was continued by the Cycling UK charity who said they were disappointed that the fund was only designed to do ‘patchwork jobs’ and is already too little, too late. They likened the situation to a doctor putting a broken leg in plaster before setting the fracture – the bone is still weak, poorly healed and as likely to break again.
In fact, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured due to the poor condition of roads has tripled in the last decade. 71 people were killed or seriously injured in 2016, an increase from 22 in 2006. This rise is well above the general increase in cyclists’ numbers for that period which has increased by around 50%.
Ticking road timebomb
Experts point out that potholes are just part of the problem – the ageing road network is a ticking time bomb that needs to be dealt with. One report from the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) showed that there is a £556 million funding gap in what local authorities in England and Wales alone have and what they need.
The report went on to say there are 24,400 miles of road that need essential maintenance in the next year. It is the same distance as driving from Birmingham to Beijing three and a half times. Moreover, more worryingly, they estimate that 20% of the highways across the country have less than five year’s life left in them, an increase from just 12% two years ago.
While the latest Government funding is a positive step forward, there is little doubt that much more is needed to avoid drivers having to spend their time worrying about potholes on top of everything else on the road.
One hopes we see the Chancellor take action in the Autumn budget and find the money required to repair the UK road infrastructure. It is after all the backbone of the economy and is one of the single most significant contributors to productivity, something which the Government recognises we need to invest in as a country.
Do you agree that the country’s roads are falling into a distressed state? Do you think the £100m pothole fund is enough or an insult to what is needed? Let us know in the comments below.