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Welsh road repair backlog tops £600m a new survey reports

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The backlog of carriageway repairs to fix local roads in Wales is now £640 million, compounded by increased costs caused by rising inflation, reports this year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey.

The ALARM survey, published today (March 22, 2022) by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), highlights the scale of the worsening issue faced by highway engineers who have to make difficult choices about keeping local roads open and safe versus improving overall conditions.

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Despite an increase in average highway maintenance budgets (up 3% on 2020/21) and more of that being invested in the carriageway itself, the reported backlog of carriageway repairs has increased slightly to the equivalent of £640 million – or more than £32,000 for every mile of local road.

Rick Green, AIA Chair, said: “Local authority highway teams have a legal responsibility to keep our roads safe, but do not have the funds to do so in a cost effective, proactive way across the whole network.

“Earlier this month the Welsh Government confirmed that it has ringfenced £500 million for major road upgrades in the strategic road network but has made no such commitment to local roads, which make up 95% of the network in Wales.”

This year marks the 27th successive ALARM survey, which reports local roads funding and conditions based on information provided directly by those responsible for its maintenance.

The findings of ALARM 2022, which relate to the 2021/22 financial year, show that in Wales authorities would have needed an additional £58.4 million last year just to reach their own target road conditions, before even thinking about tackling the backlog of repairs.

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The report also reveals that 11% of the local network – 2,200 miles – is in poor structural condition and could need to be rebuilt in the next five years.

The majority of local authorities (50%) reported a year-on-year reduction in highway maintenance funding, and while £5.2 million was spent filling in potholes, local roads are only resurfaced on average once every 54 years.

Rick Green added: “The link between continued underinvestment and the condition of local roads is clear. The country’s ambitions to encourage active travel, plus cutting waste and carbon emissions, will not be achieved with a short-term approach that can’t deliver a first-rate local road network.

“To ensure we have a safe, resilient and sustainable local road network, a longer-term approach and significant investment is still needed. ALARM 2022 indicates that what is needed in Wales is an additional £60.3 million a year over the next decade to address the backlog of repairs and allow local authority highway teams to bring the network up to a point from which it could be cost effectively maintained going forward.”

Jack Cousens, Head of Roads Policy at the AA, added: “Each year the debate around roads maintenance degenerates into a blame game between local authorities and Government as each claims it is the other’s responsibility to resolve.

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“Local and national government must get round the table and create a fully-funded plan that will help make our roads safer.

“There is now a need to focus available road funding on the most basic need: fixing the roads – for the benefit of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Despite talks of levelling up, road users would simply like the roads levelled out.”

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