Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Institution of Civil Engineers (RM 12)


  The Institution welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence for the Transport Sub-Committee's Inquiry into Road Maintenance and looks forward to the outcome of the inquiry.


  Roads perform a role which extends beyond road transport. While the Motorway network is in effect a segregated zone, much of the Trunk road network, and network of local authority roads including the principal road network, is very much a part of the public realm. Many principal roads are an integral part of the towns and villages through which they run, as well as being through-routes. They include town centres, parades of shops, business districts, industrial and residential areas. In rural areas roads are the principal means of accessing and enjoying the countryside. They also provide the route for a growing range of essential utilities provided through underground pipes, cables and conduits.

  The Institution recognises this wider role, and the importance of managing the road network towards this wider interest.

Best Possible Standard

  The concept of Best Possible Standard needs to reflect the wider role performed by roads, and given a broad definition, including sustainability and aesthetic requirements as well as movement and structural requirements.


  The ICE is not a primary source of information on the condition of the trunk road network. However, the ICE Annual Local Transport Survey has, for the past five years, assessed maintenance requirements for the local road network which falls under the responsibility of local authorities.

  For 1999 the ICE survey recorded a £4.5 billion total backlog on local roads maintenance. A figure which we believe understates the true position. A very significant majority of authorities continue to register an increase in the size of their maintenance backlogs. The 2000 survey is currently being analysed.

  The survey does not distinguish between local authority principal and non-principal roads. While the system of categorisation of highways makes a distinction between different types of road, they all perform as one single network. A single journey will use several different classes of road; the road user will typically be unaware of the classification of the road. We believe that it is important that the highway network is perceived by motorists, pedestrians and other road users as being competently and adequately managed as a whole; rather than according to internal administrative boundaries.

  A second indicator of highway condition is highway liability claims. The ICE conducted a survey in 1993 and a follow up survey in 1997. The first survey showed an increase in claims, which was attributed to greater awareness by the public of their rights, plus the impact of long standing disinvestments in local road maintenance. The results of the second survey were less conclusive, owing to measures taken by local authorities to reduce their exposure to claims including: moving from insuring all risks to excess type policies which insure their claims on single incidents which exceed a set value, or alternatively total claims exceeding a set value. Hence it is more difficult to establish a true picture of exposure to highway liability risks. The ICE provided advice for local authorities, including encouraging them to adopt a risk assessment approach to managing highways liability, and to keep accurate records of inspections, repairs, and the training provided to operatives. Highways are a public service, and the highway authorities were encouraged to provide means for enabling aggrieved parties to obtain fair and prompt redress where there was a just case to answer.


The importance of adequate funding

  Through proper maintenance a road can last 20 to 40 years, whereas neglect of maintenance can necessitate early replacement. Planned preventative highways maintenance designed to keep the structure and surface of the road in good condition, can potentially have very high economic returns; the costs are relatively low and the benefit high. Postponing maintenance can lead to a failure of the road and the need for expensive replacement.

  Postponing maintenance is an issue of intergenerational equity, and comes under the scope of sustainability. Not only does it transfer costs onto future generations, it can lead to wastage of natural and financial resources.

  There is a second cost arising from maintenance, through the interruption of traffic on the road network.

  The unsatisfactory alternative to planned preventative maintenance is reactive maintenance. Work is undertaken in response to individual highways faults, for example where the public may be at risk, or where the defect is covered by the intervention levels recommended in Highway Maintenance—A Code of Good Practice—published by the Local Authority Associations (this is currently under revision). Reactive maintenance is not an efficient regime on which to base the management of a multi-billion pound asset. However, the consequence of long term underfunding of maintenance, is that local authorities are increasingly in this position.

Improvements in Management

  The management of the highways network was subject of a review by the ICE, IHT and RTPI in the publications Managing the Highways Network, 1994 and Which Way Roads, 1996. The areas addressed were planning and funding, management and administration, classification, and performance indicators.


  The Managing the Highways Network report established that there were seven different classification systems in use at the time. A single road might be classified under several of the available systems. The response, Which Way Roads proposed a single consolidated classification system based on function, with explicit responsibilities for funding, management, and planning dependent on the function performed by the road, and to reflect this is the signage system; see illustration attached. The proposals would greatly simplify current arrangements, and draw a sharper distinction between roads expressly for traffic, and roads for people.


  Which Way Roads identified a number of disadvantages of the current management system and these include:

    —  inadequate funding: funding for maintenance of roads is insufficient to preserve them in their current condition. The ICE Local Transport Survey has recorded year on year increases in the maintenance backlog on local roads;

    —  the funding system based on an annual cycle: highways projects can be affected by changes in the availability of funds. Many projects can take several years. Funding for highways maintenance and allocation of funds needs to be revised to take these issues into account. Problems occur in some areas with inflexibility of budgeting at the end of the financial year leading to increased activity in the preceding weeks. Late winter is a bad time of year to undertake highways maintenance operations; quality can be adversely affected;

    —  unstable capital and revenue funding: resulting in maintenance programmes being subject to wide fluctuations depending on the prevailing restrictions on public sector borrowing and demands from other areas of expenditure. This can lessen service standards and in the long run can result in higher maintenance bills and in some cases roads damaged beyond repair. Further, the fluctuating workload creates inefficiency in the construction industry and adds to costs. The Institution is pleased to note that since the publication of Which Way Roads the Government introduced the local transport plan process with a five year programme.

    —  absence of clear objectives or performance standards—there are no clear objectives or performance standards to which the road system is managed;

    —  lack of clear responsibility and accountability—too many different organisations involved, confusing both responsibility and accountability.

  To overcome these problems Which Way Roads suggested:

    —  separate the "democratic decision making" function from the "roads operation" function;

    —  set contractually binding performance standards on the organisation responsible for the management of the road system; and

    —  manage roads and funding over a five-year cycle to provide the necessary stability.

Performance Indicators

  The use of performance indicators would also assist, providing a structure by which progress towards the best possible standard and improvements in road maintenance could be measured. Broad areas of performance standards include:

    —  Input Indicators—the resources used in providing a service, eg road safety expenditure;

    —  Output Indicators—the immediate effect of expending the resources, eg the length of road treated with traffic calming measures; and

    —  Outcome Indicators—the ultimate effect on society or the economy, eg the perception of danger on the highway or the number of crashes. Invariably it is the outcome that is the most important to the public.

  Other performance indicators could be included in the wider context of the whole road network system. Public Information/Policy Indicators would increase information and greatly assist the public and industry.

    —  Travel Indicators—for example could be used to provide information on journey reliability and safety.

    —  Non-vehicle User Indicators—could give information on sustainable transport and accessibility for people with constrained mobility, security.

    —  Environmental Indicators—would provide information on air quality, noise levels, habitat and landscape quality/amenity for example.

  However it is important that any performance indicator system is practical, meaningful and adds value, rather than be a bureaucratic exercise which obstructs effective decision making.

Options to increase funding

  To address the problem of under-funding, the ICE commissioned the report Paying for Transport 1997; in partnership with the AA, the Institution of Highways and Transportation, the County Surveyors' Society, the Chartered Institute of Transport, and the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Suggestions offered in the report included:

        I  Reorganise the way road users are taxed: separate taxation element from charges relating to road use:

      —  relate charges to the costs which transport users impose—eg environmental, safety, congestion and track costs;

      —  ring fence revenues from charging for spending on transport.

    II  Consumer protection through regulation: protect transport users by creating a system similar to the way that other utilities are regulated. Responsibilities of such an agency would include:

      —  ensuring transport services are correctly priced and reflect the costs they generate;

      —  safeguard the interests of transport users;

      —  make sure that charges relate fairly to defined levels of service.

    III  Generate funds for transport from new revenue streams, including third parties, such as land owners, insurance companies, utility companies. The role of such third party charges is not only to raise more revenue but also to promote a more efficient travel pattern by influencing land-use decisions.


  The ICE issued a consultation draft report called Designing Streets for People on behalf of the Urban Design Alliance in summer 2000. The report examined management of streets from a wider public realm context. It stressed the range of essential services provided via the highway network.

Street Management Code

  Evidence taken during the course of the inquiry suggested that problems could arise with Statutory Undertakers undertaking work permitted under the General Permitted Development Order, which might not be consistent with the objectives of the highway or planning authority. The proposal offered by Designing Streets for People was to remove permitted development rights, and introduce an alternative arrangement based on a street management code agreed between the local authority, statutory undertakers and other interested parties. The basis would be that if the work proposed by the undertaker was consistent with the code, then that work could be carried out without further permission—as it would have been under the system of permitted development; however, where work proposed was at variance with the code, then permission of the local authority would be required.

Combined Utilities Ducts

  A technical solution to reduce damage to road structures and interruption to traffic flow would be combined utilities ducts: where a well sized duct and accessible duct is installed in the street for use by a number of different utilities, eg electricity, telecommunications etc. These are in use in a very small number of towns in the UK, but are more common overseas. The initial capital cost is high, but subsequent savings are significant: including easier access to the underground utilities, avoidance of damage to the road surface through repeated openings, and avoidance of congestion and interruption of traffic using the road. A heavily patched road surface looks ugly and reduces the attractiveness of a street.

  Designing Streets for People recommended that there should be a study of the economics, and practicalities of introducing combined utilities ducts.

January 2001

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