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Budget cuts force rural councils to make short term road repairs

29th March 2011 Print

A survey of 20 UK councils by RAC has revealed that road conditions across the country continue to decline as the impact of Government budget cuts has forced many councils to undertake short-term repairs rather than fund permanent solutions.

Twelve of the 20 councils questioned, including nine in rural areas, reported that the focus of their road maintenance strategy has now switched to short-term repairs in order to fill more potholes caused by the harsh winter.

RAC’s research found that almost six months since the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), budgetary worries are adversely affecting a number of councils. Some councils are protecting road budgets using new private schemes and others are supplementing money from central Government with extra spending. This is despite an additional £100m funding pledged by the Government in the Budget on top of the £100m announced last month.

Eight out of 20 councils have reported reductions in road maintenance budgets.

A further two councils have resorted to using extraordinary funds such as council reserves to attempt to cover the shortfall caused by cutbacks in Government grants.
Another two councils have set up private finance initiatives (PFIs) to ring fence highway maintenance budgets from Government cuts.

The largest reported cutback in road maintenance budget was £5.8m for one urban council which also expressed concern about driver safety. This council alone has a backlog of £160m in road repairs.

The lack of available funds has meant a downward spiral for road quality as repairs from winter 2009/10 have not yet been carried out by all councils, leading to further deterioration from the latest poor weather conditions:

- Half of councils questioned said that, heading into winter 2010/11, they had not yet completed repairs resulting from the cold snap from the previous year.
- Eleven of the 20 councils reported their roads to be in a poor or mixed condition.
- Three quarters (15) of the councils reported accelerated road deterioration as a result of the most recent widespread freeze in December 2010, with several councils reporting particular concerns about frost heave – the lifting and cracking of road surfaces over a large area.

These findings are supported by research among RAC patrols who reported a 25% increase in callouts resulting from potholes and poor road conditions over the past 12 months:

- 85% of patrols said wheel and tyre damage was the most common problem caused by potholes.
- 70% of patrols said damage to suspension was the second most common problem caused by the poor quality of the roads.
- Steering (24%), windscreen (10%) and body (7%) damage were also common reasons for call outs due to the deteriorating condition of the roads.
- In addition, 89% of patrols said the condition of rural roads was poor while 82% categorised suburban roads as poor.

A spokesperson for a rural council in England said,

“After this winter's cold snap, the roads are back to square one. We aimed to fill potholes within 24 hours but this did not happen due to the lack of available road gangs. Cold weather and continued underinvestment in roads means that conditions will get worse and worse and worse. Safety is paramount but we are aware that we will have to squeeze funding as tightly as possible and that it still won’t reach all areas.”

Adrian Tink, RAC motoring strategist said: "It's been a tough year for both the roads and the local councils manfully trying to repair them. Both have suffered from a harsh winter and budget cuts. The reality is that we're left with a downward spiral of worsening road surfaces and councils playing catch-up with less resources to do the job. In that situation it is understandable that councils are opting for cheaper but more short-term repairs to the road surface.

“Unfortunately that is cold comfort to drivers, who are paying record amounts of motoring taxation for what is a worsening service in return. We're also seeing increasing amounts of damage to cars as a result of potholes which means there is a road safety issue to consider here. Hitting a pothole at even a relatively low speed can easily damage a tyre or cause a car to veer into a dangerous situation.

“We know public finances are tight, but our economy is based around the roads, and the Government need to ensure they have the right level of investment to ensure they are fit for purpose - a state we are clearly some way off."