UK Politics

Road funding piecemeal and too stop-and-go, MPs warn

General view of traffic on a motorway Image copyright PA

"Piecemeal and stop-go" investment in England's road system is making cost-effective maintenance difficult, MPs have warned.

The Department for Transport has cut the roads budget, only to make emergency cash injections to deal with problems such as flooding, the Public Accounts Committee said.

The department said it had to deal with "unforeseen" problems.

It added that it was reforming funding, and was committed to fixing potholes.

"The department's unpredictable and fluctuating budgets for road maintenance over decades have put value for money at risk", said committee chairman Labour MP Margaret Hodge.

Road satisfaction 'low'

Public satisfaction with the state of English roads was at its lowest level since 2008, she added.

It was "ludicrous" that the government had cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2bn over the four years from April 2011, but had then intermittently given £1.1bn of additional funding on nine separate occasions for reasons including flooding and winter damage to the roads, Mrs Hodge said.

Compensation claims for damage arising from poor road conditions cost £31.6m in 2013/14 , the committee said. Potholes cost £52 each to fill in, it added in its report.

The Department for Transport said it was "absolutely committed to tackling potholes on local roads".

It said it encouraged councils to undertake more planned preventative maintenance and "to be more efficient in how they tackle problems".

"We have committed to spending £24bn on our strategic road network up to 2021 - the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s - and we are reforming roads funding so that it is stable and guaranteed," DfT added.

However, it said it would "make no apology for responding to unforeseen circumstances, such as the additional £180m we have provided to help councils deal with damage caused by severe weather".

Peter Box, the Local Government Association's transport spokesman, said: "Decades of underfunding by Whitehall and recent severe winters have left large swathes of our roads in disrepair.

"As the committee rightly recognises, this is leaving councils trapped in an endless cycle of only being able to patch up our deteriorating network. Councils need increased and consistent funding."

'Scylla and Charybdis'

Motoring group the AA described funding for local roads as "a lottery", and called for "stable finance" for UK roads.

"Road maintenance funding remains a lottery, and it almost seems we need bad winters to further ruin our roads so we get an emergency cash hand out for local authorities, rather than the long term stable finance which is desperately needed," said Paul Watters, AA head of public affairs.

The AA compared road drainage and potholes with Scylla and Charybdis, two monsters from Greek mythology which presented dangers to travellers.

"We are particularly pleased to see that the committee has picked up on pools, ponds and puddles that blight UK roads because of poor drainage maintenance by highways authorities - some of whom have lost track of where their drains are," said AA president Edmund King.

"Poor drainage is the Scylla to potholes' Charybdis, a tandem of evils that endanger hapless road users and wreck their vehicles."

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