Pothole repairs up 21% but £10bn needed to bring all roads ‘up to scratch’

The number of potholes repaired by councils in England and Wales rose by more than a fifth last year, new figures show.

Some 1.86 million potholes were filled in during 2018/19 compared with 1.53 million during the previous 12 months, the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (Alarm) survey found.

The annual report revealed that highway maintenance budgets have increased from an average of £20.6 million to £24.5 million year-on-year.

But the report warned that much of this is being spent on “patch and mend” work which does not provide value for money or improve the resilience of road surfaces.

Potholes filled by councils in England and Wales
Potholes filled by councils in England and Wales

There is also a “big discrepancy” in what different councils are spending on roads.

Some local authorities in England received highway maintenance funding equivalent to more than £90,000 per mile last year, while a third continue to struggle with reduced budgets including some having less than £9,000 per mile.

Councils would need to spend a total of £9.79 billion over 10 years to bring all their roads up to scratch, the report stated.

The analysis is based on council responses to a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA).

AIA chairman Rick Green said: “There are glimmers of hope, but while overall highway maintenance budgets are up, there is still a big discrepancy between the haves and have nots.

“Achieving target conditions on all categories of local roads – those that we all rely on every day – still remains out of reach.

“With the amount needed to bring the local road network up to scratch still approaching £10 billion, sustained investment over a longer time frame is needed if we want a local road network that supports enhanced mobility, connectivity and productivity.”

AA president Edmund King said: “The Alarm survey suggests that the country is beginning to find its way out of the rut.

“Increased funding and a milder winter presents an opportunity to begin to catch up on the backlog – but any slackening off will simply pitch our roads back into a deep hole.”

How a pothole forms
How a pothole forms

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Cycling UK, said: “Cyclists, like pedestrians, suffer particularly badly from poor road maintenance, as the outcome is far more likely to involve personal injury.

“Cycling UK supports the AIA’s call of ‘don’t stop now’.”

RAC figures show drivers are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer a pothole-related breakdown than in 2006.

Its patrols received 1,714 call-outs between October and December 2018 for problems usually caused by road defects, such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels.

Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “Councils share the frustration of motorists about the state of our local roads and, as this survey shows, fixing our roads is a priority for them.

“Faced with severe financial pressures, councils have managed to spend more on road repairs in the past year in order to fix a pothole every 17 seconds.

“Despite these efforts, it is clear that our roads are deteriorating at a faster rate than can be repaired by councils, with the cost of clearing our alarming national roads repair backlog on the rise and now at almost £10 billion.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Potholes are a huge problem for all road users and the Government is taking action, providing local authorities with more than £6.6 billion for roads maintenance and pothole repair in the six years to 2021.

“In addition, we are trialling new technologies to stop potholes from forming, as well as new ways to repair roads.

“We are now also consulting on increasing the standards of roadworks by utility companies to help keep roads pothole-free for longer.”