£50m pothole fund "complete madness"

The Government has committed an extra £6bn to fix potholes between 2015 and 2021, yet the estimated repair bill for local roads rose from £10.5bn to £12bn between 2013 and 2014.

The Government's investment of £50m in a Pothole Action Fund for 2016-17 has been criticised as "complete madness", while council chiefs have claimed it falls 230 times short of what they need to bring roads up to scratch.

The funding, which is the first tranche of £250m in planned spending on pothole repairs announced by Chancellor George Osborne in November's  Spending Review, will help nearly 100 councils to fix 943,000 over the next 12 months, the Department for Transport said.

In total, the Pothole Action Fund is expected to support the repair of over four million potholes by 2020-21.

"The Government is spending a record £6.1bn on local highways maintenance between 2015-16 and 2020-21, giving councils long-term certainty for the first time to plan future work with the aim of preventing potholes and improving local roads, bridges and street lighting," said transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

But Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, said the fund does nothing to address the "cumulative effect of decades of underfunding and perpetuates the downward spiral of the 'patch and mend' approach".

In its annual ALARM survey of highways managers, the AIA found that despite councils repairing two million potholes last year, roads are deteriorating faster than they can be repaired. It put the total cost of bringing local roads in England and Wales up to a decent standard at £11.8bn, up from £10.5bn in 2012.

"The Government's announcement of a £50m Pothole Action Fund for England in 2016-17 might seem like good news but is, in fact, another clear sign that the battle to rescue our crumbling local roads network is being lost," Mackenzie said.

"Poorly maintained roads simply cannot withstand the combination of severe weather and increased traffic, which is why potholes form, and which will, in time, undermine the entire structure of the road.

"Our research has shown that an invest-to-save approach pays dividends with every planned investment providing long-term savings of more than twice the amount spent. Throwing money into potholes is complete madness."

Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association's transport spokesman, said councils would need more than 230 times the £50m earmarked for 2016-17 to bring roads up to scratch.

"The money announced today will help those councils receiving it to tackle potholes, but it would not even completely cover the cost of the £69m faced by the average authority to bring its roads up to a reasonable condition," he added.

"Councils fixed a pothole every 15 seconds again last year, despite significant budget reductions leaving them with less to spend on fixing our roads. Local authorities are proving remarkably efficient in how they use this diminishing funding pot but they remain trapped in a frustrating cycle that will only ever leave them able to patch up those roads that are inadequate.

"Councils share the frustration of motorists having to pay to drive on roads that are often inadequate. Our polling shows that 83 per cent of the population would support a small amount of the existing billions they pay the Treasury each year in fuel duty being reinvested to help councils bring our roads up to scratch.

"The condition of our roads is only going to get worse unless we address it as a national priority. The Government's own traffic projections predict a potential increase in traffic of up to 55 per cent by 2040. Councils desperately need long-term and consistent funding to invest in the resurfacing projects which our road network desperately needs over the next decade."

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