The unending battle against the potholes that scar almost every inch of the UK’s road network is to be bolstered by help from Ocado, Tesco, Deliveroo and Uber, after the Department for Transport announced it would be working with the firms to build up a comprehensive map of which roads are in urgent need of repair.
The Government has already set aside £2.5bn to fix the UK’s pock-marked roads, but working out where that cash is needed is no simple matter. To help determine which roads require repairs, data gathered by the four firms will be used “to paint the most comprehensive picture ever of where funding is most needed to make sure roads are not plagued by potholes.” The DfT will also work with highways and data-mapping company Gaist, as well as local authorities, in a bid to bring about a “levelling up” of the UK’s road network.
The move comes as millions of school-run trips in England are about to resume after five months of lockdown and summer-holiday closure, and follows 319 miles of repairs that have been effected over the past few months when roads have been quiet.
Announcing the “first of its kind” project, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the move makes sense as delivery companies “know the roads well”, adding that “better road surfaces benefit motorists and cyclists alike ensuring the back to school and work environment is safer for everyone.”
Deliveroo’s Charlie Wren said: “This is a great way to make sure [Deliveroo riders] and other road users are safe on the road. We’re looking forward to working with the government on this important scheme to help make the roads safer for Deliveroo riders and others.”
As well as being a boon to car drivers, the pothole blitz should make life far safer for cyclists, who often have to ride around large divots in Tarmac, or risk pirouetting over their handlebars if they do not spot the obstacles in time.
Road funding cuts could have paid for eight million pothole repairs
The money that has been cut from local councils’ road funding budgets since 2010 could have paid for nearly eight million potholes to be repaired, according to new data.
Figures from the Local Government Association (LGA) show the amount of money councils are able to spend on routine maintenance – including filling in potholes, cleaning drains and fixing faulty street lamps – has fallen from £1.1bn in 2009/10 to £701m in 2017/18 – a reduction of 37 per cent.
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The LGA, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, estimates that this funding lost by councils could have been used to repair around 7.8 million potholes.
The money has been lost as a result of austerity measures that are seeing councils forfeit 60p in every £1 between 2010 and 2020, with services such as road maintenance being stripped back to free-up money for childcare, adult social care and support for the homeless.
At present, councils are fixing one pothole every 17 seconds, but the latest data suggests fixing them all would cost just under £10bn.
Cllr Martin Tett, transport spokesman for the LGA, commented: “It is not right that the Government spends 43 times per mile more on maintaining our national roads – which make up just three per cent of all roads – than on local roads, which are controlled by councils and make up 97 per cent of England’s road network.
“While the extra one-off funding announced in recent years has helped, we need Government to follow with a long-term funding plan to save our roads in the Spending Review.”
MPs call for five-year pothole repair funding plan
MPs have called for the Government to commit to a front-loaded, five-year funding settlement to help councils in England repair potholes on local roads.
A new report by the Transport Committee recognises the risk and inconvenience presented by potholes, which can damage vehicles and cause injury to road users – especially cyclists and motorcyclists – as well as undermine local economies and waste taxpayers’ money.
• Local roads “a poor relation within transport”, admits transport minister
A lack of funding, the Transport Committee says, has caused councils to make short-term, reactive decisions on local road maintenance, and this is far less effective that taking a proactive approach to maintenance.
The Transport Committee wants to see the Treasury decide on the exact nature of the settlement after consulting with local authorities to ensure the funding model works for them and encourages innovation, collaboration and good practice. In addition, the Transport Committee says the Department for Transport (DfT) should make it easier for the public to report road concerns and access real-time updates on road conditions.
Lillian Greenwood MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “Local roads are the arteries of our villages, towns and cities, but most people won’t have to go further than the local shops to spot a pothole that poses a risk of injury or damage.
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“Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services.”
She added: “Almost every journey begins and ends on local roads: the DfT must work with the public and local authorities to make them safe.”
The AA’s latest Populus survey saw 81 per cent of 20,086 drivers say that potholes on local roads are causing problems. The organisation’s head of roads policy, Jack Cousens, commented: “Local councils have seen their budgets stretched and cut back for several years, and despite a good effort last year, ultimately they are losing the battle on potholes. According to the latest AIA Alarm survey, residential roads in England are resurfaced once every 99 years – a truly once in a lifetime situation!
“While potholes can be a very costly inconvenience for drivers, they can be tragically fatal for cyclists and motorcyclists. The only way councils will get on top of the conditions of local roads is with the help of a large scale and continuous funding project.
“Currently, it would take a decade to get our local roads back to where they should be, so a fully funded five-year project would go a long way towards smoothing out our streets.”
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