Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Refined Bitumen Association (RM 05)

  Evidence from the Refined Bitumen Association (RBA) on maintenance of motorways, trunk roads and local authority principal roads for the Transport Sub-committee of the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee.

The Current State of Repair of Motorways and Trunk Roads and of Local Authority Principal Roads

  1.  For the past five years the RBA has conducted the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey. Much of the statistical information presented in this evidence is taken form the most recent survey's results (April 2000). The survey gathers statistical information and seeks the views of those responsible for road maintenance in all local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. A summary of the findings of the RBA's 2000 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey is attached. The findings of this year's survey will be available from 4 April 2001.


  2.  Evidence gathered by the RBA in relation to local authority principal roads highlights the continued decline in the state of repair of these roads. Responding to the Association's 2000 Survey, 42 per cent of all local authorities stated that the frequency of road surfacing on principal roads in their area has decreased due to under-funding of road maintenance programmes.

  3.  Overall, the average frequency of road surfacing on all types of local authority roads is now at a level of once in every 78 years as opposed to the recommended frequency of once every 10 to 20 years depending on the road type. The need for structural maintenance work on all types of local authority roads has increased by 75 per cent over the last 10 years and the number of visual defects (for example, cracking, deterioration, patching and potholes) has increased by 62 per cent over the same period. Thirty-six per cent of local authority road maintenance budgets are spent on costly reactive maintenance rather than more efficient, planned maintenance programmes.


  4.  Regular and planned maintenance on principal and all roads is essential to maintain safety standards. Of concern to the RBA is the fact that 74 per cent of local authorities believe there is a threat to road users' safety due to road maintenance under funding. In addition, the number of claims by road users against local authorities for damage to vehicles or road traffic accidents due to road structural conditions has increased by 34 per cent over the past 10 years with each local authority, or its insurer, paying £280,000 per year in such claims. Each authority utilises 38 days of staff time per month processing such claims.

Steps taken by the Government, Highways Agency and Local Authorities to Ensure that Roads are Kept in Good Repair


  5.  The RBA welcomes the pledges of extra funding from the Government for road maintenance. However, it harbours serious concern as to whether this extra funding will be used in the most efficient manner and, indeed, whether in certain circumstances it will be used for the purposes for which it is intended. The Association believes strongly that safeguards should be put in place to ensure road maintenance funds made available to local authorities by central Government are used precisely for that purpose.


  6.  The RBA believes that the Highways Agency is successful in its role in maintaining the national road network and is a worthy custodian of that network. The fact that its responsibility is purely for roads means that it is able to concentrate efforts, funds and expertise in that area without dilution. This is to the benefit of the road user, the Government and the road construction and maintenance industry. The Agency's focused role means that it can closely meet the needs and expectations of road users. Without denigrating the good management and expertise of the Highways Agency, the RBA believes that the overriding reason for the Agency's success lies in the fact that, unlike local authorities, its sole responsibility is for roads and its budget is for use solely on road-related expenditure.


  7.  Local authority highways' departments are responsible for 95 per cent of all of Britain's roads. Local authority highways' departments state that they require three times their current budgets to maintain roads adequately. They report a shortfall in road structural maintenance budgets of £1 billion per annum.

  8.  Local authority highways' departments do not receive the necessary funds often as a result of local political decisions. Year-on-year, funds initially destined for spending on road maintenance have been allocated to other local authority activities. This practice has resulted in a cumulative decline in the standard of local authority roads.

What further steps should be taken to bring roads in this country up to the best possible standard?


  9.  On a national level, to ensure adequate funds are available to maintain roads the RBA believes that Government tax on vehicle fuel should be separated into two elements, general tax and a "road charge". All revenue raised from the "road charge" and from the road fund licence should go directly to roads. The general tax element on fuel should continue to be set by the Chancellor for general expenditure.

  10.  The RBA believes that the Government should establish a "Roads' Regulator" who would ensure the fair distribution of road funds between national and local services, and regulate the "road charge". This should be implemented in line with the Government's policies on integrated transport so that the needs of all road users can be considered when maintenance is planned and carried out.


  11.  The RBA believes that, to ensure that adequate funds are safeguarded to maintain roads to a minimum safety and environmental standard, road maintenance funds provided by central Government to local authorities must be ring-fenced for use for that purpose only. Local authority highway engineers who have the expertise and knowledge to maintain roads properly, could then implement planned road maintenance programmes. This would ensure that best value for money is realised and that road-users would benefit from safer roads and from less traffic congestion associated with road reconstruction and maintenance.


  12.  The actions of utility companies, particularly on principal roads in urban areas, have considerable negative impact on the standard of roads. The RBA believes that greater resources should be applied to co-ordinate the activities of utilities to minimise the initial damage to roads. The RBA is concerned also about the quality of reinstatement of roads by utility companies. Frequently, poor standards of reinstatements lead to more general maintenance problems and necessitate additional expenditure by the road authority.


  13.  The RBA welcomes the increased adoption of long-term maintenance contracts by road authorities. Such contracts allow for greater efficiency and more scope for effective planning. They also mean better value for money. Long-term contracts also present the opportunity for maintenance organisations, which then have the ability to control and plan maintenance, to use new and innovative road maintenance and construction materials to the benefit of all road users.

  14.  The asphalt industry has invested considerable resources in developing maintenance materials which allow roads to be repaired and maintained rapidly, often overnight. These materials help to minimise the financial and environmental impact of congestion caused by road maintenance. Their use is increasing and is of particular benefit on highly trafficked and strategic roads such as motorways, trunk roads and principal roads, ensuring they operate at optimum capacity. As dependency on the road network continues to rise, rapid maintenance techniques take higher priority. However, rapid and overnight maintenance come at a cost. Restricted working hours require more intensive work and, hence increase labour costs. These increased costs must be considered when maintenance budgets are set.


  15.  The RBA believes that the asphalt industry's ability and drive to develop new materials has proved extremely advantageous in the past and should be encouraged in the future. To ensure maximum general public, road-user and cost benefits are realised, all opportunities should be investigated when maintenance is planned. These should include the use of noise-reducing asphalt road surfaces where possible, the use of spray-reducing surfaces and the use of durable coloured asphalts to assist in allocating road space for specific road users. Considering all these elements in maintenance planning will assist in achieving best value for money and minimum road-user disruption.

Refined Bitumen Association

19 January 2001



  Founded in 1968 the Refined Bitumen Association (RBA) is the trade association of the five largest bitumen suppliers who between them produce nearly all of the UK's bitumen. Over 85 per cent of this is used in the construction and maintenance of bituminous, or asphalt, roads which account for over 95 per cent of all UK roads.

  The RBA is a consultative body formed to promote the technical benefits of bitumen to the construction industry and to fund research into bituminous products. The Association publishes technical bulletins and provides technical advice to the construction industry. It also works with contractors and authorities on issues of recycling bituminous materials. In conjunction with the Quarry Products Association, the RBA publishes Asphalt Now magazine.

  In addition, the RBA is involved in the development of industry policy on quality assurance and standards relating to issues such as safety, storage, and the handling of bitumen. Participation in the development of UK and European specifications and test methods is also one of the Association's major activities. In addition, the Association produces and publishes the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey, the authoritative, annual survey on the condition of and funding of local authority controlled roads (95 per cent of the UK road network).

  The Association's Technical Director is Dr Tony Harrison, and its Chairman is Julian Peake of Totalfina Bitumen.

  Members of the RBA are: BP Bitumen; Esso Petroleum; Totalfina Bitumen; Nynas UK; and Shell Bitumen.

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