Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the British Aggregates Association (RM 18)



  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 road network.

  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 roads.

  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 billion.

  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 billion—give 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 roads."

  From NRMCS the following trends are taken:
1977 = 100
Trunk Road maintenance expenditure152
Non trunk road maintenance expenditure 92
Principal road maintenance expenditure 78
Non principal roads maintenance expenditure 88

1997 Statistics.

  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 for 2003-04.


  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 dissatisfactions—higher 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 this problem.

  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

April 2001

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Prepared 18 July 2001