Black holes have become an annual topic of my blogs, the last written on March 30 last year. So no surprise for me to comment on the latest news that the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) estimates the cost to councils of bringing our roads up to good condition is now £10.5bn.
The annual report of the AIA reveals that council highway teams, responsible for 95 per cent of roads, ‘fixed’, at a cost of £113m, 2.2 million potholes, half a million more than the year before. I say ‘fixed’ advisedly as if your council is anything like mine then substitute ‘botched’ for ‘fixed’. The latest ruse seems to be to send out teams to dump a bit of tarmac into a hole, roll the truck back and forth a few times over the mound and go on to the next one. That’s if they do anything at all!
Potholes reported by telephone used to be filled in within 24 to 48 hours, report online, the recommended channel, and you’ll get a response if you’re lucky a week later and the hole will still be there. One cyclist reported a massive pothole to his local council in Yorkshire. The council surrounded it with a big yellow circle. Thinking that meant it would be filled in, a week later he went past to see the hole still there, the yellow paint weathered away and a bright white line running smack through the centre of the pothole! Not surprisingly his photo and story sent into Cycling Weekly made it Letter of the Week.
One in five local roads in England and Wales are now classified as in poor condition, meaning they have five years or less life left in them. A year ago, local councils reported a shortfall in budget to properly repair and maintain roads of £5.3m, now the deficit is £6.2m and will only go up as budgets get squeezed further. The hapless motorist is stuck well and truly in the middle and, in some cases, literally in potholes following vehicle damage.
An AA/Populus survey of nearly 23,000 drivers has revealed that in the last two years, a third of motorists have suffered damage to their vehicles from potholes, rating the condition of local roads as ‘poor’, ‘very poor’ or ‘terrible’. Scottish drivers appear the worst off, nearly half at 44 per cent reporting damage to their vehicles from potholes. In north east England, 59 per cent of drivers rated their roads worse than a year ago indicating just how much those living in the worst areas for winter weather suffer the most come the spring. Overall, only ten per cent rated their roads ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.
The AIA reports that local councils last year paid £32m in compensation to drivers who suffered vehicle damage from potholes, up a staggering 50 per cent. Meanwhile, they paid staff wages of over £13m to process those claims!
It is estimated that the cost to SMEs in terms of vehicle damage, delayed deliveries, lost productivity and higher fuel consumption is £52bn.
The government says it has handed out £3bn to local councils to maintain roads but the extra £215m announced last autumn doesn’t even cover the £338m of damage caused by the unprecedented record rainfall last year. Water is one of the prime causes of road damage along with frozen water expanding in cracks in the road in winter.
The problem is that fleets and private motorists are being hit by a double whammy at the moment, rocketing fuel prices and rising vehicle repair costs through pothole damage. Local councils don’t have the money to properly repair roads, let alone maintain them in good condition and central government does not seem to recognise that it needs to not only jump start the economy but keep UK PLC on the move.
We’re a nation centrally run by amateurs reliant on local amateurs to enact what the ‘fat cat’ Whitehall mandarins closeted in their ivory towers bureaucratically dream up next.
It’s high time the waste stops. Central bureaucracy needs to be stripped out. Government needs to get a grip on an integrated transport policy. Fuel duty needs to be directed back into road infrastructures.
The Government estimates the whole HS2 project will cost £32.7bn. It needs to stop dreaming and take a reality check. However, worthwhile long-term such a concept may be, in the current climate it cannot afford to throw that amount of money on so controversial a scheme. Better to can the whole project, spend £10.5bn on bringing our road network back to good condition and invest what it can afford on new roads and upgrading existing rail lines and rolling stock. As any rail industry person will tell you, signalling alone needs a radical overhaul, which is the real reason why HST cannot run on existing lines.
Without doubt, Government needs to act decisively before we all fall in a black hole for good.