Councils spend £2.5bn on Potholes Fund on unrelated issues

By | March 20, 2024


More than £16 billion would be needed to clear the backlog of carriageway repairs

In the past 12 months, councils have spent just a fraction of the millions of pounds they were allocated to patch potholes, while the amount of money needed to repair roads has reached a record high.

In 2020, the government introduced the Potholes Fundwhich would award £500 million every year to councils across England until 2025 to enable them to repair an estimated 50 million potholes.

But according to the latest annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (Alarm) survey of local authorities by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), English and Welsh councils have spent just £143.5 million on filling potholes in the last 12 months – in a time in which the numbers The number of potholes in the road and the number of vehicles damaged as a result have rarely been so high.

The report also shows that more than half of the local road network in England and Wales has less than 15 years of life, while the amount needed to clear the backlog of carriageway repairs has risen to a record high of £16 .3 billion.

The news will come as no surprise to members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Better Roads. In their latest report, MPs criticized the fact that the money in the Potholes Fund had not been earmarked and that municipalities were free to spend it as they wished.

Hole in the roadHole in the road

Hole in the road

This contrasts with the Fund’s predecessor, the £296 million Pothole Action Fund which covered the period 2015 to 2020 and was provided solely for road maintenance.

As a result, the MPs said, the number of potholes fell by 44% during that plan’s existence – from 2.38 million in 2015 to 1.34 million in 2020.

While the Pothole Action Fund had “clear and measurable objectives”, the current Potholes Fund is not specifically aimed at maintaining local roads, making spending harder to track, the MPs said.

At the same time, overall government funding for local road maintenance has declined.

MPs’ fears that insufficient attention is being paid to road maintenance are confirmed by the latest Alert Survey, which shows that only 47% of roads are now classified as in good condition, compared to 51% in 2023, down from 62 %. % in 2022. Ideally, that would be 72%, the AIA believes.

Re-paving the roadRe-paving the road

Re-paving the road

Comparing the two pothole funds, MPs said: “All indications are that the Pothole Action Fund has made a marked improvement between 2015 and 2020. It was additional funding, but it was allocated directly to local highway maintenance. Now that the Potholes Fund has been absorbed into the more general road funding, this has been reversed.”

Their conclusions were echoed by Rick Green, chairman of the AIA, who said: “Our view is that the targeted and accountable nature of the Pothole Action Fund has contributed greatly to its effectiveness. It was no surprise to us that the gains made during its life were subsequently lost.”

Shortly after the current Potholes Fund was announced, the Government said it was making £5.5 billion available for the maintenance and repair of local roads for the same period, from 2020 to 2025. This may have given the impression that this money would be a top-up was on the £2.5 billion Potholes Fund, but it was actually part of it. A further £200 million was also announced for the Potholes Fund, but this was also part of the £5.5 billion.

As with the Potholes Fund, the balance of the £5.5 billion fund is not ring-fenced.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) said that not earmarking the money “means local authorities can choose how to spend it on the maintenance of their respective networks” and that “the funding can be spent on all parts of the highway, including bridges, light poles and other infrastructure”. About £4.5 billion of the £5.5 billion has been spent so far.

Ora Funky Cat approaches pitOra Funky Cat approaches pit

Ora Funky Cat approaches pit

Councils must publish regular updates on their proposed works, which the DfT believes will ensure members of the public can see which roads in their area have been or will be renewed. The first of these reports will go live on the council’s websites this month. Failure to report this information could result in future deductions.

The same conditions and accountability rules apply to the additional £8.3 billion of funding being diverted from the HS2 rail project to roads, as promised last November.

From April, councils in England should each receive £150 million for 2023 and 2024, with the rest allocated until 2034.

The DfT has claimed this will be enough to resurface more than 5,000 miles of roads over the next decade.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was up to local authorities how they would spend the funding, but the aim was to “improve the quality of the road surface in the future”, rather than just fixing existing potholes.

As motorists face pothole-riddled journeys every day, they hope councils will use their freedom to spend the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money they have been given to fix many more, and prevent future problems from happening to develop. .

Councils deflate drivers

Damage to a hole in the Seat Ibiza wheelDamage to a hole in the Seat Ibiza wheel

Damage to a hole in the Seat Ibiza wheel

As municipalities come under increasing pressure to balance their budgets, motorists can expect less favorable hearings when seeking compensation for damage caused to their cars by potholes.

This year, three councils in the south east have already paid out a total of £535,000 in pothole compensation. Surrey County Council alone has paid out £452,000.

This could explain why it recently rejected a claim for damages from a driver whose tire was torn by a pothole.

Citing Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980, the council reasoned that because it had a reasonable highway inspection and maintenance regime for its highways network, it had not breached its statutory duty.

This common defense may be overturned if the plaintiff proves that the municipality failed to inspect and maintain the road to required standards. However, this takes time and municipalities realize this…

Crackdown on utilities

Potholes occur for many reasons, but chief among them is poor road surface repair by utilities.

Last April, the government announced that this would be the case action against utilities causing what it called ‘sore in the holes’ by ensuring they have to repair the roads faster and to a higher standard or face regular council inspections costing up to £120 each.

A DfT spokesperson said local authorities are enforcing the new performance-based inspections and implementation is “going well”.

The DfT plans to assess the impact of the new regulations on performance at the end of April.


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