Every driver knows the state of UK roads is dismal. Despite a relatively mild winter in 2018, the number – and depth – of potholes is increasing. The excuses from councils that they are too poor to afford repairs is simply not true.
In Warrington, Cheshire for example, there are dozens of holes large enough to damage car suspension or cause an accident hazards for cyclists, or motorcyclists. Yet the council has put £30 million into a private bank, committed £107 million on a new retail centre project and allocated £6.5 million on a new youth club. It also plans to spend £70 million on a new road across the Manchester Ship Canal.
Interestingly, despite these financial facts, the RAC seems convinced that a lack of money, not willpower, is at the root of the problem.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes commented on the news that pothole repair in England and Wales could take a decade:
“This latest report clearly highlights that the shortfall between what councils need to fix the roads, and the cash they actually have at their disposal, is as enormous as ever.
“It’s time for some fresh thinking when it comes to finally getting on top of Britain’s pothole problem. Short term funding and creating pots by which local authorities can bid for cash doesn’t appear to be addressing the root cause of the problem. Instead, the Government should be looking at how it can guarantee councils the certainty of reliable long-term funding so that they can finally bring every road up to a standard road users think is acceptable.
“In just two years’ time, motorways and major roads will enjoy ring-fenced funding from Vehicle Excise Duty receipts. If just a fraction of existing fuel duty revenue was ring-fenced specifically for local roads, over just a few years enough could be raised to allow councils to make proper, lasting repairs that are fit for the 21st century. As things stand, all road users are faced with the prospect of road surfaces falling into an even worse state making for increasingly uncomfortable, expensive and, in some cases, downright dangerous journeys.
“The recent bad weather will only have made matters worse. Before the cold snap, the condition of many local roads was on a knife edge and we now expect a number of these to deteriorate still further as we move into the Spring.”
Ring-fencing cash is a good idea, but unworkable in practice. Councils will always find ways to grab money for their own vanity, and vote-winning, projects instead. The solution is to have the Highways Agency in control of the ring-fenced cash, and the localised sub-contracted repair and maintenance of roads. That way Councillor Prodworthy and his chums cannot blow the pothole budget on an exchange trip to Antibes instead.