10th Report - Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap Contents

4Data collection and use

77.The Road Condition Management Group (RCMG), on behalf of the UK Roads Board,151 leads on the development and the consistency of road condition data as used by all highway authorities in England and the rest of the UK.152

78.Roads in England are inspected by local authorities, with the frequency determined according to the value and strategic importance of the road. Residential roads, for example, are typically only inspected once a year, compared to once a month for motorways and major A roads,153 though the specific frequency varies by local highway authority.154 The monitoring of local road conditions provides important evidence on the quality of local roads, priorities for focusing resources, the effect of treatment and data required for lifecycle modelling.155 It also ensures that nationally consistent data can be collected to help central and local government understand the scale of the maintenance problem on the local roads network and determine how funds can best be allocated.

Inspection data


79.The condition of the local ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads in England is measured using a long-established technology called SCANNER (Surface Condition Assessment for the National Network of Roads). SCANNER involves a specially adapted vehicle driving the network, with lasers and video equipment measuring a range of parameters, such as cracking of the road, and ruts. A number of these parameters are then combined to give an overall score that indicates the condition of each section of the road—the Road Condition Indicator (RCI). SCANNER brings the benefits of coverage, objectivity, consistency and it has a nationally recognised quality assurance regime that helps local authorities assure the National Audit Office (NAO) and the DfT of the robustness of their data and the comparability with other local authorities.156

80.SCANNER is not the only technology available. Steve Berry from the DfT said that some councils are using Gaist as an alternative.157 Paula Claytonsmith, Managing Director of Gaist, explained to us how their technology works:

We have a range of five high-definition cameras that capture an image every metre of the road. We then stitch that into video-like quality, which means you almost get Google Street View on steroids. […] We pick up about 35 different types of defects, including potholes, edge deterioration and a whole range of defects that are more likely to be spotted by a road user or a cyclist, or a general member of the public, from a user perspective.158

Alex Wright, Group Manager at the Transport Research Laboratory, explained that there are similarities and differences between SCANNER and Gaist and that in some ways Gaist builds on the good work done by SCANNER and can measure a wider range of parameters.159

81.Once the roads have been inspected, UK Pavement Management System-accredited systems are used by local authorities to submit road condition data to central government.160

Other inspection methods

82.There is a less systematic approach for assessing conditions on unclassified roads. Some highways authorities use Detailed Visual Inspections (DVI) and Coarse Visual Inspection (CVI) (i.e. people going out to look at the state of the roads.), whilst others use the Annual Engineers Inspection.161 Some witnesses told us of their concerns that local road inspectors are not sufficiently trained, do not always pick up defects early enough and are not given sufficient guidance to properly assess defects and their impacts on non-vehicular road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.162 There are also concerns about the unclassified road network, where SCANNER does not work. Mark Stevens, Assistant Director Operational Highways of Suffolk County Council and Chair of the Engineering Board at the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), commented:

More than half of our network is unclassified; [SCANNER] does not work in those environments. We do not have a robust process to pick that up in a consistent way and compare it nationally, but it all boils down to the extent to which each local authority can afford to carry out those surveys.163

83.Councils also encourage public reporting, including online reporting using their own websites164 or via services such as FixMyStreet.165 The quality of reports and the way councils respond to them varies widely. Lincolnshire County Council explained its processes:

Our increased use of technology through the implementation of a web portal allows for a member of the public to directly report a defect on our road network. This information gets fed through to the relevant Highways Officer immediately and increases confidence in our service whilst improving efficiency.166

Anti-pothole campaigner Mark Morrell (‘Mr Pothole’) told us that in his view there are too many different reporting systems across highways authorities and that many of them are “not fit for purpose and outdated in the modern world. Some show previous reports made where others don’t, some allow pictures to be uploaded, some give feedback to reporters. Updating of information can be poor with reports showing as open months after repairs”.167 He recommended that there should be a “national reporting system for highways defects using smart technology” to solve these problems.168

Collecting, monitoring and managing data

84.In 2014 the National Audit Office (NAO) recommended that the DfT improve its understanding of the current condition and future needs of the local road network.169 The then Minister, Jesse Norman, told us that it is key for the Department for Transport to have “datasets that are of high quality and are consistent”. He emphasised that:

… the consistency part is really important. You do not get the comparisons without it. That has a backward drag. It sometimes means that one can be too tied to a particular data source or method of gathering because one wants to ensure consistency. There is a question about how you bring in new technology to overlap with that.

You see that now. Historically, it was done by visual inspection. Then you had SCANNER. Now you have Gaist and other tools. They are doing different things when it comes to assessing the state of the road, but the goal is to try to build a consistent national picture […] It is not a perfect position and there is plenty of scope for improvement, but it is still worth valuing and appreciating.170

85.Tarmac said that the Government “has an opportunity to support nationally consistent ways of monitoring/managing data and information to make the most effective decisions”.171 The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) argued that a consistent reporting framework across local authorities would allow conditions to be easily assessed and facilitate comparisons in and across areas.172 The Road Condition Management Group (RCMG) proposed a new approach to the collection and management of data, which would “offer the potential for local highway authorities to procure their data using new and more flexible types of procurement”.173

86.Matthew Lugg from CIHT told us that there is a ‘critical link’ between funding and data collection, and that the DfT “does not know what level of investment to make for the outcome it wants to achieve, it is working in the dark. There needs to be a national lead on what should be collected and how it is used”.174 Steve Berry from the Department for Transport rejected this criticism. He told us that “road condition or the condition of the assets is not tied to the funding”.175 He referred to the Department’s announcement on 31 March 2019 that it is planning a review of road condition surveying data and technology, to seek views on the current methodology used to monitor road condition as well as how councils and the wider sector can harness new forms of technology and data to improve local roads and infrastructure.176 Mr Berry told us that the review is intended to answer questions such as:

Are we collecting the right information? Should we be collecting more information? How does that affect highways maintenance funding?

[…] The key point is that the call for evidence will take into account what the CIHT is saying. We need to understand data and we need local authorities to understand that data much more. A lot of authorities have done that assessment. They have an asset management strategy or plan, but when you start to ask in more detail about each of their specific assets, they say, “Well, we’re not entirely sure.” Are we [DfT] in the dark or are they [local authorities] in the dark?177

Problems with the current approach

87.Despite the existence of long-established inspection technology such as SCANNER, comprehensive and comparable data on local road conditions in England is limited.178 This is partly due to the complex nature of the road assets being assessed and the difficulty in reliably establishing the exact condition of some types of road assets.179 In oral evidence, Matthew Lugg from CIHT noted the lack of information about these assets:

On footways, we have no national indicators and very little data. There are other assets. I talked about drains, but signs and markings are really important to the user for navigating the network and for road safety. They are not measured in any way at national level. The regime is quite weak, and … I am not sure that it really reflects the true picture.180

88.There are also concerns about the variety of inspection methods used by local highway authorities181 and the fact that the data they collect only assesses the surface level condition of the road and is not reflective of underlying structural conditions.182 As a result, there is a lack of confidence amongst many authorities about these underlying conditions. For example, Thurrock Council said that “[road condition] results can be misleading. [For example], recent reactive works give an indication of ‘good’ condition despite having a much shorter lifespan than a ‘good’ condition unpatched carriageway”.183

89.There are ways of addressing this, though these methods are not in widespread use. For example, Surrey County Council told us about deflectograph surveys, which provide structural data.184 However, they are uneconomical for use across the entirety of the network due to slow speed and cost. Surrey said that “there is a gap in the market for a traffic speed deflectograph that can be used on local roads”.185 They also told us that current survey approaches stifle development and consistency:

While other surveys have begun to be developed by companies keen to move things forward, these are not nationally recognised or audited and the lack of a national lead and funding mechanism is leading to fragmentation in surveys which will ultimately lead to a lack of consistent data for national benchmarking.186

90.Other stakeholders believe the deficiencies in data are down to the SCANNER technology. Lincolnshire County Council expressed “concerns over the discrepancy between the results of SCANNER surveys and the perception of the condition of the network” and said that this has “led to the reintroduction of visual surveys across the whole of our network”.187 Luton Borough Council also believe that the survey “is not fit for purpose [because] it is designed for motorways and not for local roads, which are subject to differing patterns of traffic speed, volume and manoeuvres”.188 The RCMG pointed out what it perceived as shortcomings with the SCANNER technology.189

91.Local authorities collect data on the condition of their networks using both technology and visual inspection methods. There is mixed evidence about how they can deploy this data in meaningful ways to cut maintenance costs and make the right decisions.

92.We believe that local authorities will only be able to make better use of available funds for road maintenance if they can target such funding well; this requires good data. Some of the data local authorities collect on the condition of the road network is passed to the Department for Transport. We are not confident that this data gives the DfT a true picture of the state of the local roads or that any comparison of areas would compare ‘like with like’ and allow meaningful conclusions to be drawn.

93.DfT publishes basic headline data on road condition. While this is a useful tool to compare a single data set over time, it is limited in scope and detail and does not provide the sort of detail given in external condition surveys published by third parties (e.g. the AIA in its annual ALARM survey). We welcome the DfT’s review of road condition surveying data and technology. We recommend that, given the previous Minister’s concerns about whether third party data is reliable, the DfT conduct an analysis of the merits of collecting richer data from local authorities and what cost this would represent to the taxpayer.

94.We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Department explain whether the data it receives from local authorities on road condition is consistent and allows valid comparisons to be made, what it does with such data, how it is analysed and what action is taken on the back of conclusions that it draws.

95.Irrespective of the Department’s view on the merits of it collecting and publishing further data, it should make it easier for the public to report road condition concerns and access local authority road condition data. We recommend that DfT run an innovation competition to develop a platform that the public can use to make online reports about road condition direct to the relevant council and access real-time local road condition data. It could be searchable by factors such as council, constituency and postcode. It could also be used by councils to monitor their own performance and to generate data to allow them to benchmark on a time or geographical basis.

151 UKRB is one of three Boards of the UK Roads Liaison Group (the others being Bridges and Lighting). For full membership, see the website

152 To read more about the RCMG, see their website

153 Automobile Association (LRF0045)

154 North East Combined Authority (LRF0049)

155 Leicestershire County Council (LRF0058); East Riding of Yorkshire Council (LRF0060)

156 Road Condition Management Group, SCANNER

159 Q80; these are complex technical arguments about which the Committee does not hold a view but where there is lively debate, see for example: RCMG-supplementary written evidence (LRF0092); W.D.M Limited (LRF0094) and Gaist (LRF0096)

160 Road Condition Management Group, UK Pavement Management System (UKPMS)

161 Midland Service Improvement Group (LRF0063); An AEI is a visual survey method that is carried out by engineers. It is outcome based, i.e. focuses on the type of treatments (if any) that are required for a given section of road

162 Mr Dave Gaster (LRF0032) and Qq34–36 (Roger Geffen, Cycling UK)

166 Lincolnshire County Council (LRF0077)

167 Mr Mark Morrell (LRF0026)

168 Mr Mark Morrell (LRF0026)

169 NAO, Maintaining strategic infrastructure: roads, HC 169, session 2014–15, 6 June 2014, p9

171 Tarmac (LRF0083)

172 Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) (LRF0046)

173 Road Condition Management Group (subgroup of the UK Roads Board) (LRF0051); this would involve a core condition dataset that covers only the condition parameters that would be used by local and central government to meet national and local statistical/benchmarking/financial needs. Commercial providers would be able to provide this data using their preferred technique, allowing them to innovate, offer a wider range of survey methods, and additional data/condition parameters.

175 Q352; from 2013/14, ‘road condition’ was removed as a factor in determining the local highways maintenance grant

178 Local Government Technical Advisors Group (LGTAG) (LRF0023); RAC Foundation (LRF0037)

179 For full discussion, see: RAC Foundation, The Condition of England’s Local Roads and how they are Funded, November 2015, p.4–7; Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) (LRF0046); Local Government Association (LRF0053)

181 Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) (LRF0046)

182 Q18; Thurrock Council (LRF0012); Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) (LRF0028); Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) (LRF0044); Surrey County Council (LRF0062)

183 Thurrock Council (LRF0012)

184 A Deflectograph is a survey vehicle used to produce data for the assessment of pavement strength. It is a lorry-based system, with a pair of wheels at the front and a pair of double wheels at the rear. At the start of testing a pair of deflection beams are lowered onto the road surface. The Deflectograph then moves forward, so that the double wheels on the rear of the vehicle straddle the two beams. This causes the pavement to deflect (due to the vehicle’s weight) which is measured in the two beams. Once the rear wheels have reached the end of the beams, the beams are brought forward and the process is repeated again. This results in deflection measurements taken at approximately 4m intervals.

185 Surrey County Council (LRF0062)

186 Surrey County Council (LRF0062)

187 Lincolnshire County Council (LRF0077)

188 Luton Borough Council (LRF0036)

189 Road Condition Management Group (subgroup of the UK Roads Board) (LRF0051)

Published: 1 July 2019