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Pothole repairs should be funded by fuel duty, say local authorities

Austerity spending has left UK roads in disrepair and drivers unhappy, says Local Government Association

Pothole

The UK government has reduced spending on road repairs by more than almost any other developed nation in the last two decades.

That’s the finding of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which represents 38 of the world’s top economies. Its analysis reveals the UK spent £2bn in 2019 on road maintenance, compared to £4bn in 2006, which is the last date when similar data was available. According to the OECD, that contrasts with countries like Sweden, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand and the US, which have all increased spending by around 50 per cent in the same period.

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The OECD says countries have also protected their pothole repair budgets better, and only Ireland and Italy have reduced spending to the same levels as the UK.

The figures have led to a response from the Local Government Association which represents local councils in England and Wales struggling to keep up with the maintenance backlog. It says years of underspending means driver satisfaction levels with roads has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade. Just 34 per cent of LGA residents are satisfied with how their local roads are maintained, the organisation claims.

The LGA says a long term plan for maintenance needs to be funded, in order to return road investment to the levels other developed nations enjoy. It wants all political parties to pledge to participate in a 10 year programme funded by ring-fencing 2p per litre from the existing level of fuel duty, as a commitment to voters in advance of the next general election.

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“This would help councils to reverse the current decline in road conditions, so residents aren’t paying for far more expensive pothole repairs, and work can continue on reducing air pollution and supporting the move to a low carbon economy,” the LGA says.

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According to LGA chair councillor Shaun Davies, the UK has slumped from the top of the road repair table to almost the bottom. “Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local road repair budgets has left councils facing the biggest ever annual pothole repair backlog,” he says. “The Government should take this opportunity to work with councils to develop a long-term, fully-funded programme to catch up with the backlog. Ultimately, all local transport decisions should be devolved to councils, who are best placed in determining what is a priority for their areas.”

Pothole insurance claims up by 34 per cent

The number of claims for pothole damage has soared by more than one third since 2016, according to leading car insurer Admiral.

It’s not just the number of claims that has soared either, as the average cost of damage caused by potholes has risen by 16 per cent in the last year alone, as inflationary factors hit garages and tyre repair businesses alike.

Row of potholes

“If you have Comprehensive cover, claiming for pothole damage through your insurer should be a straightforward process, but it can affect your no claims bonus and you may need to pay an excess,” says Admiral’s head of claims Lorna Connelly. “If you think you’ve hit a hum-dinger, get out and check for damage at the safest opportunity. Take photos of the pothole and the damage to your car and consider taking your vehicle to a mechanic to check for damage.”

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If you don’t have comprehensive insurance, then you’ll either have to fund repairs out of your own pocket or seek compensation from the authority responsible for maintaining the road with the pothole that you hit.

We reported earlier this year that cash-strapped local authorities and councils were forced to cough up almost £27 million in compensation payouts to drivers whose cars suffered damage on the UK’s poorly maintained roads in 2022. 

That’s more than a quarter of the total budget spent actually fixing potholes, as councils poured £93.7 million into repairing 1.4 million of them at a cost of £67 per pothole. Citroen UK crunched the numbers supplied by the Department of Transport and road construction trade body Asphalt Industry Alliance, to show that compensation payouts amounting to £11.6 million were made to motorists.

Incredibly, a further £11.1 million was then spent on claims handling, meaning the total cost of compensation could have seen another 340,000 potholes repaired instead.

Figures from the Department of Transport on MoT failures have also been revealed that give a potential insight into the effect of dire tarmac conditions on car safety. In 2022, 1,069,069 MOT failures were attributed to damaged coil springs, with fractured or broken front passenger side coil springs accounting for 346,383 of MOT failures in the category. Coil springs caused the second-highest number of MoT failures behind tyre MoT fails, according to numbers shared via a Freedom of Information request made by online insurer One Sure.

Potholes to make 18 per cent of roads undriveable in five years

The Asphalt Industry Alliance’s (AIA) Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey suggests that one in five roads – equivalent to 37,000 miles of Tarmac – are in such poor condition that they have less than five years of life left in them.

A total of around £14billion is needed to fix every pothole in England and Wales. This estimate is £2billion higher than that made in last year’s ALARM survey and £5billion more than was needed in 2012. The Government recently announced an additional £200million of investment in pothole repairs, meaning a total budget of £700million for 2023/24, but motoring groups said this would not make much difference.

The ALARM report places local roads into one of three categories – good (more than 15 years of life remaining), adequate (between five and 15 years of life remaining) and poor (less than five years of life remaining).

Although more than half of local roads are currently classed as good, there are approximately 100,000 miles of asphalt that will need rebuilding at some point in the next 15 years.

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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