Home News 25 years of ALARM and still no silver lining

25 years of ALARM and still no silver lining

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pothole damage road

The findings of this year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey indicate that, while a step in the right direction, the Chancellor’s additional £2.5 billion pothole pledge is not enough to plug the gap in local road maintenance budgets, let alone the rising backlog of repairs.

Now in its 25th year, the ALARM survey, published today (March 24, 2020) by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), shows that the green shoots of improving conditions reported in 2019 have not been sustained, with local authorities having to cope with an average drop in overall highway maintenance budgets of 16%.

And, with overall local authority spending down, highway teams have been allocated a smaller slice of a smaller cake to maintain the road surface and structure, which has led to a widening funding gap in the amount needed to maintain the carriageway to target conditions.

ALARM 2020 reports that this shortfall is now an average of £4.9 million (£5.4m in England) for local authorities across England, London and Wales, up from £3.9 million last year.

Less funding for the carriageway inevitably means less maintenance, and this is borne out by ALARM 2020’s reported reduction in pothole repairs, downward target adjustments and declining structural road conditions.

This year there are 7,240 fewer miles of road reported to be in GOOD structural condition, with 15 years or more of life remaining, and 1,100 more miles of roads classed as POOR, with less than 5 years’ life remaining, bringing the total in this category to 42,675 miles. And, in the middle, there is a continued increase in the number classed as ADEQUATE, with between 5-15 years’ life remaining, suggesting an ongoing slide towards mediocrity.

Rick Green, Chair of the AIA, said: “Highway maintenance budgets have dropped back to where they were two years ago. Over the past 25 years we have repeatedly seen this pattern of short-term cash injections to stem accelerating decline, only to be followed by further years of underfunding. This stop-start approach has been wasteful and does nothing to improve the condition of local road network on which we all rely. In fact, it has just contributed to a rising bill to put things right.

“The £2.5 billion extra funding over the next five years announced in the Budget will certainly be welcomed by hard-pressed local authority highway teams dealing with increasing demands on smaller budgets, as well as the effects of extreme weather events, such as the recent storms, on an ageing network.

“However, £500 million extra a year divided across English local authorities is a long way off the one-time catch-up cost of £11.14 billion that ALARM 2020 indicates is needed to bring our local roads across England, London and Wales up to a level from which they can be maintained cost effectively going forward.

“What’s needed is additional and sustained investment to help underpin the Government’s levelling-up strategy and social cohesion goals, as well as complement its ambitions for more sustainable modes of transport.

“Twenty-five years on and we are dealing with new and unprecedented challenges and understandably resources will need to be prioritised accordingly in the short-term. Looking ahead, however, a sustainably-funded, well-maintained local road network will be key to supporting recovery and regrowth.”

The full ALARM survey will be available to download from 00.01 hours on Tuesday 24th March by visiting www.asphaltuk.org

Key facts

  • Average highway maintenance budgets down 16% – to £20.7 million per authority, down from £24.5 million reported in 2019.
  • Local authorities reported that, on average, 50% of the average annual highway maintenance is spent on the carriageway. (55% in 2019)
  • Disparity of funding – ranging from less than £1,300 per mile of local authority road network to more than £51,000 per mile.
  • £826.6 million – carriageway budget shortfall through 2019 (£5.4 million per authority in England; £3.6 million in London and £4.2 million in Wales).
  • £11.14 billion – estimated one-time cost to get roads back into a reasonable, steady state up from £9.79 billion reported in 2019 (£85.4 million per authority in England; £24.3 million in London and £32.8 million in Wales).
  • 11 years – estimated time it would take to clear the maintenance backlog if local authorities had the funding and resources available to do the work.
  • 66 years – average time before a road is resurfaced (76 years in England; 36 years in London and 58 years in Wales).
  • A pothole is filled every 21 seconds in England and Wales.
  • £22.8 million – total cost of dealing with compensation claims, including £8.1 million paid out in compensation.

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