This year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey* reports that one in five local roads are now classed as being in poor structural condition due to a lack of sustained investment in the network.
ALARM 2020 findings show that the green shoots of improving conditions reported the previous year have not been sustained. Local authorities reported cuts to their overall budgets and this resulted in a knock-on for highways maintenance pots – down by a reported average of 16% in England and Wales – as cashed-strapped authorities made increasingly difficult decisions on how reduced funds should be allocated.
The proportion of highway maintenance budgets spent on the road surface and structure itself has also fallen, as local authorities have had to spend more on other parts of the asset, such as bridges, cycleways and drainage works, to cope with the effects of an increased incidence of extreme weather events on an ageing network. This has led to a widening funding gap in the amount needed to maintain the carriageway to target conditions.
The March 2020 Budget included pledges for an additional £2.5 billion for English local roads over five years. ALARM 2020 highlights that this will not be enough to plug the shortfall in annual carriageway maintenance budgets and is a fraction of the estimated £11.14 billion needed across England, London and Wales to bring local road networks up to a level from which they can be maintained cost-effectively going forwards.
*Now in its 25th year, the independent survey aims to take a snapshot of the general condition of the local road network in England and Wales, based on information provided directly by those responsible for its maintenance. The data received from local authorities provides a means of tracking any improvement or deterioration and the qualitative feedback received provides context. The full 2020 ALARM survey is available to download at www.asphaltuk.org
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Highways has issued a report highlighting how the use of Warm Mix Asphalt (WMA) can reduce carbon emissions and improve efficiencies on highways projects.
WMAs are manufactured and laid at lower temperatures than traditional asphalts, using less energy and delivering meaningful carbon savings without compromising performance. Their use can reduce CO2 emissions associated with asphalt production for road maintenance and construction projects by around 15%, depending on product and plant.
The use of WMAs also improves conditions for the workforce, plus, as less time is required to cool to trafficking temperatures, carriageways can be re-opened earlier – minimising disruption for road users. WMA already accounts for around 40% of production in the USA and over 15% in France, yet remains under-utilised in the UK, where it represents less than 4% of asphalt production.
Sir Christopher Chope OBE MP, Chairman, APPG on Highways, said: “Everyone has a part to play in tackling environmental issues for future generations and the majority of UK councils have already declared ‘climate emergencies’. This report aims to encourage those authorities which have responsibility for highways to put their support for environmental measures into practice without delay.”
The second meeting of the group this year saw Brian Kent, National Technical Director at Tarmac and Chairman of the Mineral Products Association’s Asphalt Committee, set out the industry’s concern that take-up of warm mix asphalt – which offers considerable environmental benefits over hot mixed asphalt – has been disappointingly low to date.
Warm mix asphalt technologies can reduce their production and laying temperature to approximately 40°C below the equivalent hot mix material, resulting in lower fuel usage and associated carbon emissions.
Brian highlighted the numerous benefits of warm mix asphalt, including faster re-opening of roads or reduced programme durations, which can lead to on-site savings, improved health and safety and improved air quality for workers and the wider community.
He also pointed out the industry’s frustration that less than 4% of asphalt in the UK is currently specified as warm mix, despite verbal support from Highways England and many local authorities. The inherent inefficiencies and thus lost opportunity for savings from switching production temperature for small production runs were also noted.
Those present within the group, which is chaired by Sir Christopher Chope OBE MP, were enthusiastic in their support for raising the profile and uptake of warm mix asphalt and helping the industry deliver a lower carbon footprint.
This year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey reports early signs that an increase in local authority highway maintenance budgets is beginning to stem the decline in the condition of the local road network.
Nevertheless, increased investment is still falling short of the amount needed to maintain local roads to target conditions, with years of underfunding leading to a local road network on the edge and a one-time catch-up cost which continues to rise.
For the second consecutive year, ALARM reports that local authorities’ highway maintenance budgets have increased by almost 20 per cent. For councils in England and London this included a share of £420 million additional funding allocated in the November 2018 Budget.
John Lamb, President of the Local Government Technical Advisers Group, set out the benefits of switching to a holistic approach to highway maintenance budgets.
He explained to the group, which is chaired by Sir Christopher Chope MP, that permitting local authorities to allocate road maintenance funding where it is most needed, would lead to improvements in the local road network and ensure all funds were spent efficiently.
Current accounting procedure means that highway maintenance budgets are split into ‘revenue expenditure’, which is mostly funded by local authority funding, and ‘capital spending’, which is mostly supported by Central Government. Combining these funding streams and allocating them in a planned way under a total expenditure or ‘TotEx approach’ would be more cost-effective and iron out the existing peaks and troughs in highway maintenance activity.
John described TotEx as the step needed to ensure a ‘right first time’ approach to repairs. It would allow local authorities’ highway maintenance teams to manage their networks on a long-term basis as opposed to a series of short-term fixes.
APPG Chairman, Sir Christopher Chope MP, welcomed Oxfordshire County Council representatives Councillor Yvonne Constance, Cabinet Member for the Environment (including Transport) and Paul Fermer, Assistant Director – Infrastructure Operations, to the last meeting of 2018.
Cllr Constance set out how the council has implemented a forward-thinking approach to investing in roads maintenance to improve conditions and save money in the long-term:
With a cut in the roads budget of 50 per cent since 2011, coupled with rising levels of residents’ dissatisfaction, Cllr Constance explained how the forecasted increase in Council Tax that will be generated as result of the planned development of 100,000 new homes has been brought forward to be spent on road improvements.
She and Paul explained that the council had determined that the managed decline approach to road maintenance imposed by budget constraints sat incongruously with Oxfordshire’s ambitious growth plans and aims to improve transport links within the county, such as the key A420 which services many SMEs working between Swindon and Oxford.
The council now plans to use £10 million each year from its ‘growth dividend’ derived from the increasing numbers of new homes now paying Council Tax. This will allow contractor Skanska to implement a planned preventative approach to local road maintenance which is reported to be twenty times less expensive per square metre than reactive work such as patching and mending potholes.
The Group was delighted to welcome Jesse Norman MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport to the meeting. AIA Chairman Rick Green and IHE President Jonathan Pearson led discussions on the maintenance and funding of local roads and the issues associated with the Apprenticeship Levy.
The briefing document for the Minister, which included the following points, can be viewed here.
The discussions focused on the long-term underfunding of local roads, evidenced by the recent ALARM survey. It acknowledged funding had increased in 2017 but reported the condition of local roads has still declined. In particular:
o 20% are near the end of their life
o An additional £556m per year is needed just to prevent the network from further deterioration
o £9.3Bn is required in order to get the network back into a good state
o 24,000 miles of local roads are likely to require maintenance in the next 12 months
Other areas for discussion were the move towards whole life asset management using planned preventative maintenance and the long-term cost benefits of an invest to save approach.
The Group proposed a solution – to redirect the equivalent of 3p per litre of fuel duty – which would provide the required £1.5 billion per year over the next 10 years to get the network back into a decent state. This is not meant to be an extra levy on drivers but hypothecated from existing duties.
Concern was expressed regarding the apparent failure of the Apprenticeship Levy to encourage apprenticeship schemes appropriate to the road building and maintenance industries. The main problem is that roads are wrapped up within construction, and there are no higher-level courses available for the sector, so the companies involved are paying into the Levy scheme, but not reaping the benefit. Uncertainty about medium- and long-term funding in the sector is having an effect on recruitment and this, in turn, is not encouraging potential apprentices into the industry.
The Minister was enthusiastic in his support for the local roads network and asked industry representatives to keep in close touch with DfT officials on the issues raised and to provide any relevant evidence which he could take to HM Treasury in his dealings with them on funding.
The Asphalt Industry Alliance’s (AIA) latest ALARM survey reports that that you could drive around the world on the length of local authority roads that could fail in the next 12 months – with cash-strapped local authorities reporting that more than 24,400 miles of road could need maintenance in the next year.
Now in its 23rd year, ALARM also highlights that the gap between local authority highway maintenance funding in 2017/18 and the amount needed to keep the carriageway in reasonable order was almost £556 million. This is equivalent to a shortfall of £3.3 million for every local authority in England and Wales.
It would now take 14 years and more than £9.3 billion to get local roads back into a steady state, if adequate funds and resources were available.
Clive Hall, Head of Highways & Community Services at Herefordshire Council, spoke to the meeting on behalf of the Midlands Service Improvement Group (MSIG) about its response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on proposals for a major road network (MRN).
While supportive of the proposal’s core principals, MSIG considers that DfT’s proposals do not represent a holistic approach to developing a coherent road network and undervalues the importance of connectivity between locations. The MRN should be identified on the basis of a route’s current and future importance to the economy and resilience of the region. Not all de-trunked routes have retained such importance, particularly in areas of the country where the density of the SRN and proposed MRN is comparatively high.
The missing component in the MRN proposals is its maintenance. Without investment in the maintenance of the MRN it will not operate well as part of a whole system.
The MRN proposal’s focus on new schemes/major renewals could lead to unintended consequences where authorities let ads decline rather than maintaining them as part of an asset management approach. This will result in poor investment choices and is contrary to life cycle planning
The following discussion covered whether the local authority funding system was working properly, or was inadvertently hindering the allocation of the “right” money to the right projects at the right time. Acknowledging the importance of local roads to the economy and productivity, the question was raised about whether the industry could propose ways in which road conditions could be enhanced to improve productivity and save road maintenance money in the long term.