Cost of roads repair backlog is still £12bn

Highways Reporters

The estimated cost to get the local road network in England and Wales back into reasonable condition remains at £12 billion – despite a 33% increase in the number of potholes filled over the last year.

Results from the 20th Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey, which is commissioned by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), show that despite local authorities reporting an increase in their overall maintenance budgets, one in six roads in England and Wales are still classed as being in poor condition.

AIA chairman Alan Mackenzie said: “The government’s emergency funding for pothole and flood repair following last year’s wet winter has clearly contributed to the trends reported in this year’s survey. Essentially, the money spent on filling the 2.7 million potholes reported is wasted ? it is inefficient and short term in its effectiveness.

“So, while we understand that the Department for Transport (DfT) is promoting permanent repairs, the point remains that money would be better spent preventing potholes forming in the first place.”

This year’s ALARM survey (2015) also reports that although authorities in England and Wales have seen their average annual budget shortfall drop by 24% (from £4.2 million in 2014 to £3.2m), the time it would take to clear the backlog has increased to 13 years (from 12 years in 2014).

Mackenzie added: “The £6bn of funding pledged between 2015 and 2021 is welcome, and hopefully will be confirmed by an incoming government. But the truth is that although it sounds like a big investment, it will only be enough for local authorities to tread water and it will do nothing to tackle the backlog or prevent continuing deterioration.”

He said around 85% of respondents acknowledged the benefits of structured road maintenance programmes as part of their long-term asset management plans.

“Research has shown that adopting an ‘invest to save’ approach pays dividends ? with every planned investment in the road network providing long-term savings of more than twice the value.

“Moving forward, we need planned structural maintenance, resurfacing, strengthening and reconstruction.”

This year’s survey also shows a dramatic increase in the amount paid in road user compensation claims in England (excluding London) which, at £20.2 m, has doubled since last year. The costs for local authorities associated with processing claims also rose, with staff costs exceeding £17.8m ? the equivalent of 225 hours per month per authority.

Key findings – Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2015:

Percentage of authorities responding52%53%56%41%
Shortfall in annual road structural budget£548.6m£428m£39.8m£80.8m
Average annual budget shortfall per authority£3.2m£3.7m£1.2m£3.7m
Percentage of budget used on reactive maintenance25%23%29%34%
Estimated time to clear carriageway maintenance backlog113 years12 years15 years13 years
Estimated one time catch-up cost£12.16bn£10.7bn£807m£646m
Estimated one time catch-up cost per authority£71m£93m£25.2m£29.4m
Percentage of authorities reporting unforeseen additional costs32%31%28%44%
Average additional cost per authority (where figures available)£4.1m£5.7m£810k£475k
Frequency of road surfacing (all road classes)63 years64 years31 years59 years
Number of potholes filled over past year2,670,3502,380,730159,776129,844
Average number filled per authority last year15,70620,7024,9935,902
Average cost to fill one pothole£57£52£72£65
Total spent filling potholes in past year£144.3m£124.4m£11.5m£8.4m
Amount paid in road user compensation claims£23m£20.2m£2.2m£702k
Staff costs spent on claims (per year) average per authority£104k£104k£88k£138k
Average number of utility trenches over past year per authority13,25815,7769,3404,904

The full ALARM survey 2015 report is available to download from To read further in-depth analysis from Alan Mackenzie look out for the exclusive AIA ‘Surface Matters’ column in the April 2015 issue of Highways Magazine.
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