Transport Select Committee says long-term funding settlement essential to local roads maintenance
A FRONT-loaded, five-year funding settlement is the only way local authorities will be able to address a deteriorating local roads network and plan ahead, according to a new report, ‘Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap’, published today by the Transport Select Committee.
Addressing the extreme state of disrepair of the English local road network, the report describes the country’s ‘plague of potholes’ as a headache for everyone and a severe risk for many, and says a deteriorating local road network undermines local economic performance and results in direct costs to taxpayers, either through rising costs of deferred work or through a mend and make do approach that does not represent good value for money in the long term.
Local government revenue funding has fallen by about 25% since 2010, and with no ring-fencing for local roads funding, cash-strapped authorities have diverted the money to plug other gaps such as social care. Lack of funding certainty has also caused many councils to take short-term, reactive decisions on road maintenance, which is less effective than proactive maintenance and undermines local economic performance.
The Committee warns that extracting a five-year settlement from the Treasury should not be an excuse to cut funding. The exact nature of the settlement should be developed following consultation with local authorities to ensure the funding is designed in a way that will be most useful for them, says the report. It should encourage innovation, collaboration and good practice.
The Department for Transport (DfT) publishes basic data on road conditions and has begun work on collecting and publishing further data. The Committee believes that the DfT should make it easier for the public to report road concerns and to access real-time updates on road conditions.
Lilian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, said: ‘Local roads are the arteries of our villages, towns and cities, but most people won’t have to go further than the local shops to spot a pothole that poses a risk of injury or damage.
‘Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services. This is not an isolated example – it’s been a common thread in our other recent inquiries on buses and active travel. Now is the time for the DfT to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.
‘Almost every journey begins and ends on local roads: the DfT must work with the public and local authorities to make them safe.’
Rick Green, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, said: ‘With our own annual survey highlighting that there is a highway maintenance backlog of more than £9 billion, it’s no surprise that the Transport Select Committee has concluded that the local road network needs investment.
‘Local roads are the lifeblood of our economy and communities, and we support the Committee’s call for a significant and front-loaded five-year funding settlement for local highway maintenance. We hope the Government will heed this call in its forthcoming Spending Review.’