Councils improve key highways conditions at cost to unclassified roads


Highways authorities across England have maintained the condition of key local road assets over the last six years despite severe cuts to budgets, although it has come at a cost to unclassified roads, government figures suggest.

The latest official statistics out today from the Department for Transport (DfT) suggest that councils have prioritised principle A roads together with B and C routes, resulting in the percentage of that road network where maintenance should be considered either being maintained or improved.

President of the Local Government Technical Advisors Group, Phil Moore, told Transport Network the statistics show local highways authorities were doing a 'very, very good job' and that asset management was focussed on the higher classified roads 'because we have to keep the traffic moving'.

He added that highways authorities were severely under resourced and had to make 'hard decisions' on which highways do not receive maintenance, leaving them to become 'almost sacrificial roads'.

However he concluded that improvements in local asset management were showing, and that councils were getting more for their buck.

In 2013/14, local authorities reported that 4% of the principal ‘A’ road network in England should have been considered for maintenance, the same as in 2012/13 and an improvement of 1% on 2007/08 levels.

The London region had the highest proportion of its principal network considered for maintenance at 12%, the North West, West Midlands and East of England showed small improvements on last year.

The figures for 2013/14 also show that 8% of the non-principal classified ‘B’ and ‘C’ road network in England should have been considered for maintenance - a 1% improvement on 2012/13 and the same as in 2007/08.

The North West, East Midlands, West Midlands, the South East and South West all showed improvements on last year.

However the percentage of unclassified roads needing maintenance has slowly increased since 2007 rising from 15% to 18% in 2012/13 although they were held at that level last year.

According to the well-regarded ALARM survey for 2014 the total local roads maintenance backlog is currently some £12bn. 

This new figures come after 2013/14 saw 8% of the principal ‘A’ road network in England receiving maintenance treatment, an increase of 1.5% on 2012/13. Over the same period 4% of B, C and unclassified roads received maintenance treatment - the same as the previous year.

The most common treatment used across these road types was surface dressing followed by the more extensive work of resurfacing and strengthening.

The Highways Agency has improved the percentage of the trunk network that needs to be considered for maintenance.

The trunk ‘A’ road figure was 5% last year, the same as in 2007/08, however the trunk motorway figure was 3% in 2013/14 compared to the 6% that should have been considered for maintenance in 2007/08.

Trunk motorways and ‘A’ roads in England make up the Strategic Road Network (SRN) managed by the Highways Agency. The SRN makes up 2.4% of road length but carried 33% of motor traffic vehicle miles in 2013.

Council chiefs have long complained that the SRN is given significantly more funding per road mile than local highways authorities receive.

Between 2015/16 and 2021, the Government is spending roughly £6bn on maintaining and renewing the SRN - as part of a £15bn investment package - which representing around £1m of funding per mile over the 4,300-mile network. This is despite the fact that the cost of maintaining the SRN is £32,227 per lane mile, according to Highways Agency itself.

During the same period, the DfT is spending £5.8bn on maintaining the local road network, the equivalent of £31,625 per mile over the 183,400-mile network.

The DfT stats show that in total £4.2bn was spent on the maintenance of roads in England in 2013/14. Of this, £0.8bn was spent on trunk motorways and ‘A’ roads and £3.4bn on local authority managed roads.

This £3.4bn comprised:

- £641m on structural treatments on ‘A’ roads

- £520m on routine and other treatments on ‘A’ roads

- £1,171m on structural treatments on minor (‘B’, ‘C’, ‘U’) roads

- £760m on routine and other treatments on minor roads

- £306m on highways maintenance policy, planning and strategy for all local authority managed roads

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