National Pothole Day: a timely reminder of a perennial concern

Paul Fleetham, Managing Director, Contracting at Tarmac.

The plague of potholes that has blighted the UK’s roads has long been a perennial concern for the public. It is said that MPs receive more correspondence relating to potholes than any other issue in their constituencies.

This is reflected in Tarmac’s research conducted this month with people across the UK citing potholes as their number one concern when driving. They present a financial challenge to road-users who are faced with costly vehicle repairs and to councils who must make compensation payments. Most significantly, potholes pose a serious risk to the safety of cyclists and motorists.

Valued at over £800bn, the highway network is the government’s most valuable asset and must not be neglected. Local roads are vital to support both the UK’s ongoing economic recovery and regional development. Local roads account for 98 percent of our highway network and the strategic network the remaining 2 percent, so delivering an integrated and long-term plan for both is critical.

When we presented to the House of Commons Select Committee evidence gathering session last year, we were keen to stress that if we keep taking the ‘short-term fix” approach to potholes, we are compounding the problem, increasing the national repair bill (currently estimated at £10 billion) and provide a network that poses an ever-increasing risk to public safety. It is welcome news that the Department for Transport (DfT) has heard these warnings and has committed to press the Treasury to give local councils the money and the long-term certainty of investment necessary to plan and implement essential maintenance programmes.

While it is encouraging to see the DfT commit to action on long-term funding, as opposed to annual budgets, there is still a need for an immediate rethink from central and local government on how to further tackle road maintenance.

It is for this reason that we believe that consideration should be given to the adoption and use of consistent asset management; this should include digital information and modelling technology. With sustainability at the forefront of the minds of councilors, it’s important to consider the adoption of whole-life costing techniques in tandem with more durable products to develop a strategic road investment programme that will halt the decline of local roads. In addition, this approach will drastically cut the lifecycle cost of road maintenance – allowing local councils in the longer-term to achieve more for less.

The DfT’s commitment to press the Treasury is a positive first step in reversing the decline of the UK’s roads. With the Government having promised to kick start an “Infrastructure Revolution” during the general election, including £2bn over five years earmarked for pothole repairs, now is the time to extract maximum value for the taxpayer through a paradigm shift in the way local roads maintenance is thought about and executed. We await the Spring Budget (11th March) to see whether the Government will meet the challenge.