Memorandum by the British Aggregates Association
ROAD MAINTENANCE AND EXPENDITURE
The British Aggregates Association was founded
in October 1999 to represent the interests of the independent
companies in the quarrying and related industries. The Association
represents 65 members operating more than 100 sites throughout
the United Kingdom. We are responding to the Transport Sub-committee's
request for evidence on the maintenance of motorways, trunk roads
and local authority principal roads in England and suggestions
for improvements in standards in the United Kingdom.
The government's commitment to spend more money
on road maintenance is welcome. Surveys have revealed for some
time the consequences of not caring for the nation's road assets;
the comparison with lack of maintenance on a house is pertinent,
where complete reconstruction could be the consequence of not
ensuring water and frost are kept out.
For many years expenditure on road maintenance
has been cut by national government, and cut again by local government,
with both moving money to more politically sensitive areas. The
problem has been particularly acute on local roads, that is, the
roads that virtually every vehicle has to use at the start and
end of its journeys and which make up 95 per cent of the country's
Motorways and trunk roads have fared better.
As well as being better funded, for some years the Highways Agency
has used a whole-life costing approach; this has enabled strategic
planning on maintenance. For example, where rutting problems have
occurred, rather than merely fill the ruts when they appear, a
significant length of road has been reconstructed and strengthened
each year, so that in three/four years the problem is resolved.
Companies involved in the maintenance of both local and national
roads have noticed differences in resources, strategy and value
for money between the different clients on local and national
Local authorities maintain local roads: trunk
roads and motorways are the responsibility of central government
through the Highways Agency.
Where are we now?
According to a survey by the Institution of
Civil Engineers just over two years ago local authority roads
had a backlog of work needing to be done to a value of £4.9
The March 1999 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance
(ALARM) survey, carried out by the Refined Bitumen Association
from local authority data, showed that there was a shortfall in
local authorities budgets for the year 1998-99 of £1.5 billion:
a one year deficit of £1.5 billion.
These two figures together£4.9 billion
and £1.5 billiongive some idea of how the problem
grows when resources are inadequate; the problems magnify.
The DETR's own National Road Maintenance Condition
Survey (NRMCS) published last April contrasts the more or less
constant standard in visual condition of trunk roads which reflects
"the relatively small sample" with the "more pronounced
deterioration in the condition of urban roads and rural unclassified
From NRMCS the following trends are taken:
|1977 = 100|
|Trunk Road maintenance expenditure||152
|Non trunk road maintenance expenditure
|Principal road maintenance expenditure
|Non principal roads maintenance expenditure
To address these problems the government maintenance settlement
for maintaining local roads announced last November allocated
£535 million to local authorities for 2001-02, £55 million
for 2002-03 and the certainty of at least 75 per cent of 2002-03
funding for the three years after that. Even at these levels the
one-year deficit of £1.5 billion identified by local authorities
still appears large.
The Highways Agency, which is responsible for the motorways
and trunk roads that make up the other 5 per cent of the road
network, has been allocated £687 million for maintenance
in 2001-02, £668 million for 2002-03 and £722 million
The government states that the aim of the extra maintenance
funding is to stop further deterioration, not improve road condition.
One benefit from the new approach is the longer-term knowledge
of funding, which enables local authorities, their contractors
and suppliers, to plan ahead.
Committed and indicative budgets for the next five years
for road maintenance spending have been published for each local
authority in England. It is not unknown for such allocations to
be moved elsewhere, as the money is not ring-fenced. However,
greater levels of certainty should help, for example, to avoid
the mad March rush, when authorities spend large amounts of money
quickly to use up the allocations at a time when future budgets
are unknown. This practice is endemic and wastes resources.
What is very significant is that contractors involved in
the maintenance of local roads now see money being spent much
more efficiently. Instead of patching up large areas of a worn
out road every year, clients can now have a rolling programme
of reconstruction which addresses root problems rather than the
symptoms. A coat of paint on a rotten window frame may look reassuring
for a while but is pointless...
One contractor commented. "There has been a quantum
leap in value out of proportion to the amount of money local authorities
now have to spend on road maintenance."
But there are some caveats to this improved scenario. The
Local Transport Plan (LTP) settlements enable local authorities
to spend more on road maintenance through increased borrowing:
it is clear that some authorities are unwilling to do this. Also,
in the last few years some authorities discovered, through consulting
their council taxpayers as required by Best Value, that the condition
of roads and footpaths was high in the list of dissatisfactionshigher
even than education or social services. Whilst some analysis of
the public's priorities might be useful, it became clear that
voters had had enough of poor road maintenance.
For this reason some authorities increased their revenue
spending on maintenance. Now that central government has increased
the LTP settlements these authorities are reducing the amounts
of money they previously committed. This means that the increases
announced by central government will not necessarily result in
similar increases locally.
Innovative methods of procurement, particularly by the Highways
Agency and increasingly local authorities have brought public
and private organisations together; creating a more efficient
use of resources. Working together they have been able to find
ways to cut out waste and employ new technology. We believe there
is still significant potential to make the available funds go
further through wider use of community resources and a streamlining
of the procedures for the approval of new materials and techniques.
The situation in the other parts of the United Kingdom is
similar. There is a welcome commitment to maintain the primary
network but maintenance on the secondary system is underfunded
and the fabric is beginning to disintegrate, building up an enormous
problem for the future. To illustrate the size of this problem,
the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland estimate
the current backlog on secondary roads maintenance is £1.5
billion, and year on year underfunding is running at the level
of £26.5 million across Scotland's 32 local authorities.
This pattern seems to be similar in Wales and Northern Ireland.
The imposition of the Aggregates Levy will exacerbate the
situation by significantly increasing the cost of infrastructure
maintenance. The Levy is intended to promote the recycling of
construction waste and the use of alternative aggregates. But
there is good evidence that the Landfill Tax has already stimulated
the move to recycling to such an extent that a very high proportion
of wastes which can be recycled are being recycled. Availability
of suitable alternative aggregates is limited. Availability of
materials such as blast furnace slag that can be used to substitute
aggregates in anti-skid treatments is diminishing as the steel
industry shrinks. The flat rate levy will simply increase maintenance
costs and increase them disproportionately. Rural areas where
aggregates are generally less expensive will see the cost of aggregates
increased by at least 30 per cent as against 10 per cent in the
urban South East.
There is an obvious link between road condition, maintenance
and road safety. A poorly maintained road is a potentially dangerous
road. Compared to the early 1980s there has been a reduction in
the number of fatalities and serious injury on British roads but
the overall casualty rate has increased. There are roughly 10
fatalities and 100 personal injuries a day on the country's roads
costing an estimated £13 billion per year (RoSPA). This figure
puts the Institute of Civil Engineers' estimated £4.9 billion
maintenance backlog in its true context.
Local safety schemes have been shown to be the most cost-effective
means of achieving a reduction in accident rates. Improvement
in skid resistance can reduce accident rates on appropriate sites
by more than 50 per cent. This type of scheme is relatively inexpensive
but the funding for these schemes is less than one per cent of
the cost to the economy of road traffic accidents. (RoSPA).
The Government's commitment to the maintenance of motorways
and trunk roads is welcome and the Highways Agency's innovative
and developing approach to procurement is giving value for money.
Motorways and Trunk roads are being maintained to an acceptable
standard. The problem is congestion.
The local authority roads are in poor condition and getting
worse. Continued under funding of maintenance is building up an
enormous problem for the future. The Aggregate Levy will aggravate
Better-maintained roads would make a significant contribution
to the creation of a safer environment.
The climate for innovation in methods and materials for highway
maintenance has much improved over the last decade but approval
systems are bureaucratic, time consuming and costly. Competitive
innovation is one of the best ways to insure the available funds
are best used.
British Aggregates Association