Bumpy ride ahead for highways warns new report

Road sign

Report reveals growing gap between national and local road maintenance spending

A report released today, ‘A Bumpy Ride – the funding and economics of Highways Maintenance on local roads in the city regions’, reveals a growing gap between spending on road maintenance on national roads when compared with local roads.

The report finds that 98% of the road network is managed by local highways authorities which carry two thirds of all motorised traffic however the 2% of the road network managed by Highways England received 2.7 times as much maintenance spend per km as local authority-managed A roads and motorways; and 15.9 times as much as local authority unclassified roads.

It also finds that:

  • funding for Highways England is set to more than double over the next five years whilst maintenance spending on local roads has already fallen by 25% since 2010 (in real terms) and local authorities will continue to see swingeing cuts for the foreseeable future
  • In the six English metropolitan areas alone (with a combined population of 11 million), there were 5,500 kms of local roads in urgent need of repair in 2014, compared to just 220 kms across the entire Highways England network

The report goes on to show that stop-start road maintenance funding is inefficient as it leads to expensive, short-term patching and mending of crumbling roads rather than planned and pro-active maintenance which fixes problems before the structural integrity of a stretch of road is damaged.

The report also shows how the poor condition of local roads is a drag on productivity by making it more expensive to move people and goods around, and reducing the amount of useful interaction between people and places further apart. Indeed research in the West Midlands suggests that an accelerated maintenance programme would generate economic returns of £6.50 for every £1 of public funding invested.

This report calls on government to:

  • Create longer term certainty and stability over highways maintenance funding
  • Support an accelerated maintenance programme, which would see a significant increase in maintenance spending over the next five years so as to bring road surfaces back up to a sustainable condition.
  • Give local authorities greater flexibility over how overall maintenance funding is spent. This means relaxing some of the artificial distinctions between capital and revenue maintenance, as well as allowing local authorities to determine the maintenance spending profile over time, in accordance with a long term asset management plan.
  • Review the formulae used to allocate available funding so as to better reflect the economic opportunity offered by local roads. This would mean allocating funding in proportion to the volume of cars, buses, lorries, pedestrians and cyclists travelling on local roads rather than just in relation to road length.

Chair of pteg, Dr Jon Lamonte, said:

‘It’s good that Government has recognised the value and benefits of ensuring that the Highways England strategic road network is well maintained. However, most of the traffic on national motorways and highways starts or finishes on local highways, and those highways also need to be well maintained if the road network as a whole is to be reliable, safe and efficient. The funding gap on maintenance between national and local is particularly acute for the city regions given the volumes of traffic and the wider role of efficient and reliable transport networks in underpinning our plans for growth. Preventing our busy city highways from crumbling is vital not just for cars and lorries but also for buses, trams, cyclists and pedestrians. In particular if we are to cut congestion by encouraging more journeys to be made on foot or by bike then we need better roads with fewer potholes and other potential dangers.’

Dr Jon Lamonte added:

‘Road maintenance may not be the most glamorous of transport topics but without a well maintained road network we can’t get the improvements we want to see in a host of areas from tackling traffic congestion to achieving modal shift. The long term approach now being taken to road maintenance on the national road network will save money for the taxpayer in the long run. We now need to extend this approach to the next tier of strategic local roads and beyond, and put behind us the era of inefficient patch and mend of roads that have been allowed to deteriorate too far and for too long.’


For more contact Jonathan Bray on 0113 251 7445 or 07818 041 485.