Roads hit by 'pothole plague'


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The Independent Online

Local authorities are still miles behind with road repairs despite filling in 1.7 million potholes last year.

It will take English councils 11 years to clear the road maintenance backlog, while Welsh councils will take 17 years, a report from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) said.

With the average cost of filling in potholes ranging from £35 in Wales to £55 in England, around £90 million was spent on pothole work last year.

Councils in England and Wales have, in total, an annual road maintenance funding shortfall of nearly £800 million, with the average for each English council being £5.3 million.

The AIA report also showed that damage caused by the harsh winter of 2010/11 cost £600 million, with two-thirds of councils unable to make good this damage.

The average cost each authority in England needed to spend repairing winter damage was £4.4 million.

The AIA said the additional Government funding of £200 million to help councils, although welcome, "has proven woefully inadequate".

Overall, the AIA said the estimated "one-off" cost to get roads back into reasonable condition was nearly £10 billion.

The report also said the number of complaints received by local authorities from the general public about the condition of roads increased by 10% last year.

AIA chairman Alan Mackenzie said: "Severe winter weather would not, in itself, produce a plague of potholes on well-maintained roads.

"These disastrous figures result from decades of underfunding and enforced short-term planning, frustrating the efforts of local authority highways engineers to carry out the preventative work which they know has needed to be done. One in five local authority roads has less than five years' life. This is clearly unsustainable.

"Preparation of robust asset management inventory plans will help councillors to identify where the spending is needed."

AA president Edmund King said: "AA members are very concerned at this pothole plague. Our streetwatch volunteers reported more potholes per survey (14.9) at the end of last year than in the previous survey in 2010 (12.5).

"This deterioration is despite councils working hard to keep pace to reduce the backlog using the extra cash allocated by the Department for Transport.

"The AIA survey once again shows that potholes blight our roads and are as much about lack of investment in proper road repairs as they are about bad winters and heavy traffic.

"We need a new approach to stop this vicious circle of decline which causes danger to all road users, particularly those on two wheels, and expensive damage to vehicles."

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "I recognise there is an ongoing need for highways maintenance that can't be fixed overnight.

"However, we are providing £3 billion to councils for road maintenance between 2011 and 2015 which is more in cash terms than the previous four years - as well as investing £6 million for longer-term strategies.

"We also gave them generous windfall handouts last year following the severe winter which caused major problems."

Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board, said highway teams had been filling potholes "at a rate of one every 18 seconds" and had reduced the average cost of filling a pothole from £64 to £48 over the last two years.

He went on: "However, the vast array of our road network has meant that for decades funding has never kept pace with demand for repairs.

"While the extra £200 million the Government gave councils last year helped deal with the massive damage caused by the severe winter of 2010/11, it is merely a drop in the ocean of the £10 billion needed overall to bring our roads up to scratch.

"Councils are currently stuck in the position of chasing their tails, repeatedly patching up a deteriorating network rather then fixing it properly. What is needed from central government is a serious commitment to funding an upgrade of the entire road network. This will save billions of pounds in the long term and make roads safer for motorists."