Pothole update: decline in roads stemmed but not by enough report finds

Look familiar? It’s unlikely to get better any time soon (Picture © Geoff Smith/Alamy)

Think of a pothole that you either hit or narrowly avoided. You probably won’t find it hard to recall because the state of our roads continues to worsen, despite increased government money aimed at tackling our crumbling carriageways.

But while local authorities do their best to patch up the nation’s roads, the annual independent report into their sorry state makes for depressing reading. Here’s what the 2019 ALARM survey found.

How many potholes are there nationwide?

This is obviously a moving target because they’re increasing all the time. But the ALARM survey believes local authorities up and down the country fill a pothole every 17 seconds. That’s a 24 per cent increase with 1.86 million potholes being filled compared to last year.

What does our road network need?

Investment in a word. And lots of it. Chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) which is behind the survey, Rick Green said: “Last year we called for an additional £1.5 billion of funding for local roads each year for the next 10 years. This will allow them to be brought up to a condition from which they can be managed in a cost-effective way. We stand by this call.”

Is there any good news?

For once, yes. The report found that average overall highway maintenance budgets have increased by almost 20 per cent over the past 12 months. The average amount a local authority spends on road maintenance is now £24.5 million. That’s up from £20.6m last year.

The result of this is local roads now in good repair have increased by 2 per cent, the equivalent of 3500 miles of tarmac.

pothole update

Added investment is positive too…

Extra money is never a bad thing but its timing wasn’t ideal. The government’s allocation of £420m for local roads in England and London was given in the November budget. But because of when the money was granted, local authorities have only had four months to spend it before the end of the financial year.

The AIA’s Rick Green explained: “Yes, there’s been more money, but it’s clear from the 29 per cent increase in the number of potholes filled in England and London that much of this has been used for patch and mend, which does not provide value for money or improve the underlying structure and resilience of our roads.”

Who gets the money varies too

The survey found a huge difference between the money councils receive to put towards road repairs. Some had an equivalent amount of money to £90,000 per mile. Others get less than a tenth of that. If all had a similar amount, there would be more than 20,000 miles of improved local roads.

What does the future for our roads look like?

That depends on the government’s attitude to roads, according to AIA chairman Rick Green. He said: “It’s a long journey from slowing decline to improving the overall condition and resilience of the road network. This additional investment could go to waste if it is not continued. Our message is: don’t stop now.”

Councillor Martin Tett from the Local Government Association added: “It is clear our roads are deteriorating at a faster rate than they can be repaired by councils, with the cost of clearing our alarming national roads repair backlog on the rise and now at almost £10 billion.”

What is the ALARM survey?

Now in its 24th year, the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report surveys local authorities about the state of their roads and funding. It does not deal with major roads: these are handled by Highways England. It is commissioned and funded by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, the organisation that represents the companies that provide the raw materials for fixing our roads.

The UK’s roads in figures

  • £26.7m: the cost of dealing with compensation claims for damaged cars
  • £657m: the annual budget shortfall for keeping our roads in perfect shape
  • £9.79bn: how much it would cost to return our roads to a decent condition
  • 67 years: the average time before a road is resurfaced.

4 comments on “Pothole update: decline in roads stemmed but not by enough report finds

  1. R D Sanders March 26, 2019 10:26 am

    A very depressing read. I live in Sutton Coldfield where a number of our local roads were resurfaced a few years ago. Unfortunately many received no treatment at all and have continued to decay day by day. Whilst travelling around the country, once leaving main highways the poor condition of minor roads is very obvious and shocking. Years of neglect through under funding has caused this. It is a consequence of the various governments prioritising more vote getting causes. It is long overdue that the motorist gets a return on the massive amount of money the government receives from this market sector.

    • Eric Hayman March 26, 2019 12:35 pm

      Precisely – all the VED and fuel tax going to the central exchequer, and only a fraction used on the roads essential to the UK’s economy. Think of the cost of the Brexit shambles and of the failure to have secure borders.

  2. Andrew Metcalf March 26, 2019 4:40 pm

    All fingers in this report and also in most other reports you send out only mention England
    I live in Scotland do we not exist or is you cant be bothered with us.

    • Mike Shaw March 27, 2019 10:52 am

      Hi Andrew. The figures in the report come from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA)’s annual Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report. That survey only considers data from local authority highways departments in England and Wales.

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