The undeniable crisis of the state of our roads
The root of this problem lies in miserly funding from the central government, which unnecessarily constrains local councils, making citizens less safe and in the long run less prosperous, says Yasmin Qureshi MP.
Potholes and road maintenance certainly aren’t the most glamorous issues to campaign and debate on. While we all experience them as a daily annoyance, the huge impact they have on peoples’ lives, to say nothing for their massive financial costs, are likely only considered by a few. This may go some way to explaining why we are presently experiencing an undeniable crisis in the state of our roads.
It is estimated that 24,000 miles of road require repair in the next year, and 20% of local roads are thought likely to fail in the next 5 years. In recent years potholes have not been filled in are not being anywhere near as fast enough as they have appeared, culminating in an extraordinary backlog of works that needs to be done. Astonishingly, it is estimated that a one-time ‘catch-up’ of backlogged work would take 14 years to complete and cost 9.31Bn. This figure will only grow unless drastic action is taken. Across the country, these potholes damage cars and are a hazard to road-users in all forms of transport. Every MP will have undoubtedly heard case after case of potholes and the damages they cause.
This unnecessary danger cannot be avoided any longer. In 2016 there were 598 road traffic accidents in which the key contributing factor was found to be ‘poor or defective road surfaces’. 12 of these incidents produced fatalities.
It is also hugely financially costly. It is estimated that Local Authorities have paid over £70 million in pothole compensation since 2013. Collectively, the AA calculates that potholes are costing drivers and insurers £1 million every month.
In the coming years it will only get more expensive as the situation deteriorates. This is the 4th quarter in a row that pothole damages have been found to have worsened. With the increasing frequency of ‘Beast from the East’ type storms this will likely increase.
However, in their response to this issue I have repeatedly be disappointed and surprised by the position of this government. While their responsibility is to ensure that local governments have enough funds to provide essential services, they seem to have chosen a line of underfunding local councils then blaming these same councils for the inevitable failures which then occur.
This line avoids the fact that this is a country-wide crisis, keenly felt in councils regardless of the party that runs them. Indeed, a recent analysis of data produced by pothole action group ‘FileThatHole’ found that a majority of those councils with the top-10 most un-filled potholes were Conservative-led councils.
I am not trying to point-score by pointing this out; I have no doubt these councils work tirelessly towards improving their roads and make a good use of the money they are allocated. Rather, it needs to be recognized that the root of this problem lies in miserly funding from the central government, which unnecessarily constrains local councils.
The government has at times accepted that this is a serious issue which needs to be dealt with. In 2014 it allocated £6 billion to tackle potholes and improve local roads over the next 5 years. However, while significant, this is just over half what most estimates suggest is needed. I am therefore calling on the government to go one step further and attempt to deal reduce the enormous funding gap local councils face. A failure to do so will only make this country’s citizens less safe and in the long run less prosperous.
Yasmin Qureshi is Labour MP for Bolton South East
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