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2020 Alarm Survey : What you need to know

14 AUGUST, 2021

Unpacking the 2020 Alarm Report: The key takeaways

Every year the Asphalt Industry Alliance conduct an independent analysis of the local authority highway departments in England and Wales to better understand the condition of the local road network.

This Year marks the 25th annual ALARM Report to be conducted by the AIA and was 67% of the local authorities in England and Wales have responded to the 2020 ALARM survey.

Funding Highway Maintenance

The sector has seen a repeating pattern of short-term, cash injections followed by years of underfunding. And this year is no different. Local authorities have seen their budgets slashed and highway maintenance has taken a considerable hit. Across all regions, the average local authorities’ budgets for road maintenance has dropped by 16% since last year. This budget accounts for bridge maintenance, structural work, cyclical maintenance, sweeping, grass cutting, checking traffic signals, replacing street furniture, and maintaining streetlights in addition to the reparation and maintenance of our roads.

England receives about 68% of its road maintenance budget from the UK Governments Department for Transport. Other revenue streams include localised government, like Transport for London and the Welsh Assembly Government, as well as departments like the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Environment Agency grants, and regional growth funding. Money collected through local authorities, such as parking tickets, fines and other fees are also added to the pot.

However, recent funding has failed to account for the cost of inflation resulting in repeated underfunding year on year. England and Wales highway maintenance sector has seen a return to the 2017/18 levels of funding with a reported total budget of £3.46 billion, down from a high of £4.1 billion in 2018/19. A similar figure was reported back in 2010, when the annual budget came in at £3.1 billion. Taking into consideration the rate of inflation, this figure would today be worth £4.1 billion which tells us that the highway maintenance sector has not seen a meaningful budget increase since at least 2010.

Prior research carried out by the AIA, indicates that planned, preventative maintenance is 20 times less costly per square meter than road work carried out in response to damage already caused. This has led to the support for a more stable and long-term approach to the funding of highway maintenance.

Every local authority that responded to the ALARM survey agreed that guaranteed, long term funding would help increase efficiency in this sector allowing local authorities to plan ahead with confidence, budget more wisely and improve the conditions of UK roads. 64% believed that a guaranteed budget set out over a period of 5 years would be satisfactory, while 32% thought a 10-year period would be preferrable.

Around 56% of respondents, support a move towards a combined total expenditure approach which would merge each local authority’s highway maintenance budget and distribute the funds where they are needed most. However, the support for this approach is more divided. Those against concerns that some areas could fall through the gaps.

This year’s also shows an increase in the budget shortfall. The shortfall is the difference between the funding local authorities receive and the estimated cost required to provide adequate road maintenance services. The shortfall in the annual carriageway maintenance budget reported this year is £826.6 million, a 26% increase from last year’s budget shortfall. That works out to an average of £4.9 million in funding deficiency per local authority.

When asked by the AIA to estimate what it would cost to restore their road networks to an adequate standard through a one-time catch-up cost, local authorities reported that, over and above what they already receive in funding, an additional 11.14 billion would be needed to bring standards up to scratch. This estimate has increased by around 14% since the AIA last posed the same question to local authorities a year ago.

Not only is the estimated cost of returning our UK roads to a reasonable state increasing year on year, but highway departments now report that it could take 11 years to return local roads to an adequate state, even with the required funds and a long term funding plan that takes inflation into account.

The conditions of UK roads

The Road Condition Index is a metric that is used to evaluate the standard of UK roads. A colour system is used to categorise the state that roads are in. For example, a carriageway that is in a good state of repair is labelled as being in GREEN Condition. Where there is some deterioration the condition is AMBER and where conditions of the road are poor and likely to require maintenance within 12 months the road is classified as being in RED Condition.

In 2018 local authorities aimed to restore 79% of roads to GREEN Condition. This year the target is only 59% due to budgetary constraints and limitations placed on the highway sector which aim to prioritise the levels of service to areas most in need of repair. That means for 6,642 miles of local roads, ‘good’ is no longer the aspiration. The percentage of roads in AMBER Condition has risen to 29%, a one percent jump from 2018. However, the percentage of RED Condition roads has decreased by one percent since last year with 9% of roads in the UK being classified as poor.

Structural road conditions have worsened since last year. The ALARM Survey reports mixed results, with minor improvements in London, but less favourable figures coming from other parts of England and Wales. Overall, there are now 7,240 miles fewer “good” condition roads and 1,100 miles more of “poor” roads. Structural maintenance is required when the damage to the road is no longer a surface maintenance job, and will require more expensive, structural repairs.

Potholes are a sign of inadequately maintained roads and can indicate that there are underlying structural issues. This year’s figures show that the number of potholes reportedly filled in was around 1.5 million, a decrease from last year’s figures. It is the equivalent of one pothole being repaired every 21 seconds. Although this is fewer potholes filled in than last year, the report shows that pothole repairs account for roughly 60% of all defects reportedly delt with by local authorities in the last year. The average cost to fill a pothole in England is around £73.76. The total estimated cost of the pothole repairs undertaken this year is £86.4 million.

Conclusion

The inconsistent approach to funding the Highway maintenance sector has done little to improve the overall condition of our country’s infrastructure. Keeping roads in workable condition is a vital but often overlooked contributor to the state of the nation’s economy. Millions of people use the road and transport networks to move around and work, making our roads essential element to the prosperity of UK citizens and the country’s economy.

With that in mind, Red Stag are hoping that their latest product will aid local councils in maintaining both their roads and their budget balance.

Red Stag Materials are an exclusive supplier of EZ Street, a unique cold asphalt solution, offering a cost-effective alternative to traditional means of pothole repair. EZ Street asphalt does not require heavy plants to install and can be bulk-bought and stored for up to 12 months making it a highly cost-effective alternative to traditional pothole repair methods.

EZ Street is significantly faster to install and Red Stag Materials have brought the product to the UK from the USA where it has proven effective in improving efficiency. Red Stag Materials are confident that using EZ Street to address the pothole crisis here in the UK, will translate to significant savings in manhours for local councils.

EZ Street asphalt is a higher quality and less expensive alternative, but crucially, one that’s also greener and more sustainable as well. Substituting the diesel found in many cold asphalt solutions with biofuel, has resulted in a more sustainable and less fossil fuel reliant product.

To find out more about EZ Street Asphalt and how it can offer a solution to the nations pothole problems contact Red Stag Materials on 0345 646 0354 or email them at gary.bremner@redstagmaterials.com

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