Road maintenance backlog is £1.2 billion, auditor general reveals

Northern Ireland has a £1 billion roads maintenance backlog, a spending watchdog has said.

Less economical and sub-standard temporary repairs have been conducted because not enough money is available, the audit office said in a report that found the major network has been well cared for, but minor roads in rural areas continue to deteriorate because the budget has been £50 million short each year.

Comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly said: “It is clear from this report that short-term, inadequate funding of road maintenance expenditure is causing the serious deterioration of a key public asset.

“The securing of a long-term funding option needs to be a priority.”

The Infrastructure Department has had to rely on funding re-allocations from other departments in the middle of the financial year.

This prevented it from carrying out all planned maintenance work required on the network, leading to delays, the scrutiny body concluded.

 Auditor General Kieran Donnelly
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly (NI Audit Office/PA)

Mr Donnelly’s report, entitled: Structural Maintenance Of The Road Network, notes that the department estimates that, in recent years, annual funding has been, on average, £50 million less than what is needed to maintain the network in a steady and sustainable state.

This under-funding has increased the overall backlog of required maintenance funding to £1.2 billion, the auditor added

Mr Donnelly said: “While major roads such as motorways are in better condition than previously thought, minor roads, including much of the rural network, continue to deteriorate.”

The department had made significant operational efficiencies, particularly around delivery of day-to-day structural maintenance, the audit office reported.

It added: “However, these efficiencies have been outweighed by long-term financial pressures, which affect the structural maintenance of the road network and have led to further deterioration in its overall condition.

“Whilst the condition of roads making up the trunk-road network is still relatively good, the other roads making up the local road network continue to deteriorate at a faster rate, as less money is made available to maintain them to the same standard.”

  • 25,714 km - the total route length of the road network
  • 78% - are rural roads
  • 22% - are urban roads
  • £1.2 billion - the current estimate to clearthe backlog of work
  • £143 million - the annual funding required to maintain the road network in asteady and sustainable state
  • £92 million - the average annual funding allocated to structural maintenance over the past five years
  • £51 million - the average additional funding required each year

CBI Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan said the report highlighted the negative impact of having no ministerial direction.

She said it underscored the urgent need for the department to get budget certainty early in the fiscal year for planning purposes, adding: “The region’s fiscal instability should be addressed in any new negotiation phase that gets under way to restore the local Executive.

“Hard choices around the region’s fiscal imbalance must be on the table for discussion and solutions for funding and revenue-raising must be agreed in advance of ministers taking office.”

Mr Donnelly expressed surprise at the absence of a roads maintenance strategy to demonstrate long-term development and maintenance requirements of the network.

He recommended reconsideration of how funding was allocated.

A statement from the department said: “The report recognises that for many years the funding for road maintenance has been below the level required to maintain the structural integrity of the road network, and with some 26,000 kilometre of roads, 286,000 street lights, 5,900 bridges and 14,000 traffic signals to maintain, the report identifies the need for planned, timely, targeted intervention.”

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