Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by BRF (RM 02)



  BRF is a business organisation representing users and providers of the road network in the United Kingdom. It is the only independent body dedicating its entire activity and resources to this task. Directly and indirectly, through the many trade associations that are members, BRF has the support of tens of thousands of companies in many sectors of the economy.


  BRF concentrates its activities on seven core objectives:

    —  to campaign effectively for a higher quality of service from UK road systems;

    —  to collect and present data aimed at monitoring progress towards higher standards of service from the road network;

    —  to contribute towards the setting of higher service standards;

    —  to promote and manage research aimed at identifying areas in which service standards are in need of improvement and to propose solutions;

    —  to focus attention on the following specific areas of service:

      —  road maintenance;

      —  environmental performance;

      —  safety;

      —  traffic management;

      —  journey time reliability;

    —  to support the provision of public transport, cycling and pedestrian facilities; and

    —  to support a new or improved road where that is the best solution to a transport problem.


  In the 1997 White Paper A New Deal for Transport, the Government announced that its priority for the road system is to make "best use of the roads we already have". This means that the maintenance for existing roads is of the highest importance. For many years BRF has argued that road maintenance budgets have been inadequate and evidence over recent years has confirmed that BRF was correct in giving a priority to this issue in its activities. The Government have promised additional resources in its 10-Year Plan for transport, announced in the summer of 2000, to address the road maintenance backlog which has accumulated in recent years.

  Good maintenance is essential to protect the investment already made in roads, to make the most efficient use of our roads, to ensure that the road users have a safe and comfortable journey and to minimise intrusion for those who live or work in close proximity to roads. There is also concern that as the motorway and trunk road improvement programme has been scaled back, traffic is diverting onto less congested alternative routes adding to wear and tear—and the maintenance backlog—on roads lower down the hierarchy.


  Road maintenance has implications for all five criteria under which the Government's integrated transport policy is to be assessed.


  The main cause of accidents is driver error, with other primary causes being road layout and road surfaces. A particular concern is that the carriageway should have a rugous surface. This should prevent dry skids and, by allowing water to drain away, greatly diminish skidding in wet weather. The restoration of skid resistance to road surfaces is a major aim in preventative maintenance. In 1999, 14 per cent of all accidents involved skidding vehicles, 18.3 per cent in wet conditions.

  Poor maintenance can promote accidents in other ways. Examples of this are un-repaired safety barriers permitting head on crashes on dual carriageways, potholes causing vehicle deviation, longitudinal imperfections which cause stability problems for motorcyclists and cyclists and inadequate grass cutting near road junctions causing poor visibility.

  There is another form of accident which is not classified as a road accident. This is injury to pedestrians due to tripping on the lip of a paving slab or on an uneven surface. Falls of this nature are a particular problem for elderly and disabled pedestrians and can have severe consequences.


  Much of our road system runs adjacent to buildings where people live and work. Poorly maintained road surfaces can affect residents in two ways. Firstly, vehicular noise is enhanced by very rough surfaces and is often caused by badly reinstated trenches. The effect of this is particularly marked from unladen heavy goods vehicles at night. The second effect is on buildings. Poor surfaces transmit vibration to adjacent structures and this in turn affects people living and working in them.

  A large proportion of public land is in the form of carriageways, footways and verges. Its condition is a visible mark of the way a community is run. An untidy appearance is debilitating to people living near such roads and to people using them. Marked deterioration such as frequent potholes is often an indication of economic decline.


  Roads are normally continually open and repairs can only be carried out by excluding road users from part of the carriageway. This causes congestion. Lack of maintenance can cause the edge of carriageways to collapse, potholes to appear and longitudinal surface rutting to become noticeable. In these circumstances drivers may divert onto other roads thus putting more pressure on the alternative routes.


  Roads are used for more than car and lorry journeys and buses are just as vulnerable to the problems caused by road maintenance in terms of accidents and congestion, as well as the poor maintenance of waiting facilities which can damage the image of public transport. Cyclists, like all two-wheeled-vehicle users, are particularly at risk from potholes and longitudinal rutting. A poor pavement surface and poor crossing facilities can also present difficulties for pedestrians, in the worst cases making journeys on foot an impossibility.


  For the economy to run efficiently its public infrastructure must be able to be used effectively. There is a spectrum of opinion about the value which industry and commerce places on the provision of additional transport facilities and its importance in the siting of new or relocated premises. There is however, no doubt about the need for the proper and efficient maintenance of the facilities which are there—whether public transport of road provision. The investor from abroad may not be concerned whether the dual carriageway approach to the potential site has two or three lanes, but if the existing road surface is uneven and potholed then this will not inspire confidence and is a really negative factor.

  Vehicles are now built much more robustly than they were even a decade ago, but the surface characteristics of pavements do affect vehicles and their performance. Fuel consumption, tyre wear and fatigue to vehicle parts will inevitably be higher on uneven surfaces.


  Recent evidence shows that maintenance on Britain's roads has been inadequate. A report in 1997 from the House of Commons Transport Committee stated:

    "The overwhelming message from the evidence we have received is that spending on national and local road and bridge maintenance has been insufficient to maintain these important national assets in good condition. We are concerned that future levels of spending will be too low".[1]

  Although this conclusion was rejected by the then Government, more recent evidence has confirmed the Committee's fears. The National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (NRMCS) Defects Index for 1999[2] showed that the condition measured across all types of road was the worst since national measurements were first published in the mid-1970s. The survey also revealed that after several years of improvement the structural condition of motorways, trunk and principal roads was starting to deteriorate. However, even these results may underestimate the extent of the problem. Research by the County Surveyors' Society (CSS) has shown that the methodology used in the NRMCS results in a time-lag of three to four years before the implications of expenditure changes are fully reflected in the indices—thus the expenditure reductions since 1994-95 may only be recorded over the next few years—and by recording average results parts of the network with particularly bad results tend to be disguised.

  Estimates of the backlog of maintenance on the trunk road system are more difficult to find. The Highways Agency has stated that its network has a capital value of about £75 billion and on its present budget maintenance expenditure is equivalent to well under 1 per cent of this amount. This is clearly a level far below that which most companies would budget to maintain their assets.

  Evidence of neglect is apparent even to the untrained eye. Signs indicating slippery road surfaces have been posted on the M6 and wheel track rutting can be observed on inner lanes of the M3, M11 and M25, especially apparent as the surface dries after rain. Indications are much more overt on local roads where potholes, bald patches and sunken trenches can be noted. The misshape of many of our local roads has also been noticeable after recent heavy rain as they are often not self draining.


  The Government has reacted positively to this evidence of a backlog by stating that maintenance will be a priority and has allocated additional resources totalling £700 million for road maintenance over the three-year period 1999-2000 to 2001-02. However, whilst this is welcome it is insufficient to restore spending in real terms to the level it was at in the early/mid 1990s and hence it is unlikely to be adequate to deal with the maintenance backlog that has built-up over recent years. Surveys undertaken by the Institution of Civil Engineers[3] and the Refined Bitumen Association[4] both point to backlogs on the local road network totalling in the order of £4 to £5 billion at the end of 1997. This is against annual expenditure on these roads of about £1.9 billion. Although the situation varies between highway authorities it is becoming increasingly common for them to report maintenance cycles of up to 200 years on present budgets.

  On 13 November 2000 the Transport Minister announced the capital maintenance settlement for local roads in England for 2001-02 and 2002-03. This will see expenditure for repairing local roads rise from £264 million this year to £535 million in 2001-02 and £555 million in 2002-03. For the remaining three years of the Local Transport Plan period (2003-04 to 2005-06) local authorities will receive at least 75 per cent of their settlement for 2002-03.

  The money for capital maintenance covers principal roads, bridges, footways, and (for the first time) non-principal roads. This money is additional to revenue expenditure on maintenance (which covers clearing snow, cleaning drains, grass cutting etc.)—the highway maintenance Standard Spending Assessment (HMSSA)—which is announced in April. However, unlike the HMSSA, the capital budgets are ring-fenced and must be spent on addressing the capital maintenance backlog.

  The Government calculate that the backlog of expenditure on carriageway, footway, bridge, and street lighting maintenance will reach £7 billion over the next ten years. It is expected that these new resources will help restore 270,000 km of local roads, 52,000 bridges and 223,000 km of footways.

Region2000-01 2001-022002-03
North East Region21,048 34,19436,120
Yorks and Humberside39,661 65,26667,638
West Midlands32,094 60,90860,220
East Midlands22,242 56,97561,427
Eastern Region26,708 72,27472,944
South West Region32,403 77,88181,943
South East Region42,046 76,05678,036
North West Region48,194 84,45086,671
Other17,000 10,000
TOTALS264,396535,004 554,999
1 This money refers to earmarked resources for ongoing major maintenance schemes in Bedfordshire, Devon, and Portsmouth or for new major maintenance schemes in Newcastle and Dalton.

  This increase does appear to constitute genuine additional money. The inclusion of capital maintenance for non-principal roads within the capital budget for the first time does not appear to be offset by reductions in other budgets, such as HMSSA. In fact, DETR figures show that HMSSA will also rise over the next two years. The extra funding was fed in via the LTS because tackling the backlog is a specific exercise of a capital nature. The figures for HMSSA and the LTS over the past 10 years is as follows:

Year1993-94 1994-951995-96 1996-971997-98 1998-991999-00 2000-012001-02 2002-03
HMSSA1,7361,759 1,7591,7591,759 1,7671,8131,859 1,9051,955
LTS310288 258187204 180242301 53515351
1 Excluding London

  The budget for 2001-02 is double that for 2000-01, and will see over £1 billion spent over the next two years to tackle the maintenance backlog. It is this rate of increase in investment that BRF and others said would be necessary to help achieve a road network to rival any in Europe.


  In the light of this evidence, BRF would promote the following actions:

    —  the higher priority given to road maintenance by the Government needs to be sustained. Improving current conditions can only be addressed by a long-term strategy that commits additional funds. A significant step in the right direction has been made with the extra money promised for road maintenance in the 10-Year Plan, and already delivered in the capital maintenance settlement for local roads for 2001-02 and 2002-03. However, this will need to be increased yet further if the maintenance backlog is to be cleared over the course of the Plan;

    —  the impact of poor road maintenance on the environment needs to be given a higher priority. BRF's report Old Roads to Green Roads[5] demonstrated the impacts of a poor road environment and developed examples of good practice in the upgrading and enhancement of roads;

    —  the NRMCS has a number of statistical weaknesses that undermine its ability to adequately reflect conditions on the network. The establishment of more reliable data collection on road conditions must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The lack of agreed national road condition standards makes it difficult to evaluate the scale of the current maintenance crisis. The setting of agreed standards for maintenance condition should be given a high priority;

    —  road maintenance has been regarded as a "Cinderella" service for some considerable time and more efforts are necessary to ensure that talented people are attracted into it. This means that the standing of those working in the road maintenance sector needs to be fully recognised and enhanced. Training is essential at all levels and the introduction of National Vocational Qualifications should greatly assist this process;

    —  road maintenance causes disruption to the network and can be the source of complaints. It is essential that work is carried out speedily, effectively and that all agencies work in concert. The fact that responsibility for maintenance is divided between many authorities can create problems. Greater emphasis must be given to the co-ordination of the activities of those agencies that work on the road network;

    —  the maintenance and improvement of the road network is a long-term commitment. There are materials and techniques available to ensure that roads do perform better for longer. It is essential that investment decisions are based on the costs over the lifetime of the asset; and

    —  the creation of a Roads Inspector to monitor the condition of the network and spread best practice, and the introduction of rigorous performance indicators and targets to ensure higher standards of maintenance work.

  Central governments are continually called on to devote more resources to the services they fund. In areas such as health, real term increases are needed year on year to keep up with rising standards. Road maintenance is a service where this does not apply. Once the backlog referred to in this paper is cleared then the applications of proven practice and new techniques can cut future costs in real terms. This is one of the few public services where the application of funds for so called investment is just that, and where it can produce quantifiable returns.

January 2001

1   First Report of the Transport Committee, Session 1996-97 (The Road and Bridge Maintenance Programme) HC 105. Back

2   DETR April 2000, National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 1999.  Back

3   ICE, 1999 Local Transport Survey.  Back

4   RBA, Annual Local Authority Maintenance (ALARM) Survey.  Back

5   Landor Publishing 1999. Back

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