THE MAINTENANCE backlog on Britain's local roads has topped the £4 billion mark.
The Institution of Civil Engineers' latest survey of local authority roads shows the condition of the country's network has declined 20 per cent in the past year.
ICE spokesman David Bayliss said the survey showed the inevitable consequence of consistent underfunding of maintenance budgets over a number of years. The back-log has grown by more than £700 million over the past year to reach £4.1 billion.
Mr Bayliss warned underfunding maintenance would make it more expensive to correct future problems, while Britain's roads were now in a worse condition than roads in France and Germany.
Meanwhile, road lobbyists have also attacked the delay in the expected release date of the government's White Paper on roads.
British Road Federation (BRF) deputy director Paul Everitt said a delay in formulating a transport strategy meant local authorities were likely to be under-funded again.
He said: 'The real issue is about the time scales for what is being announced. There won't be a proper transport policy in place when the budget is announced in March. That means any increase in funding is not likely until 1999 or 2000 at least. It is hard to budget effectively when you don't know what your priorities are.'
The BRF believes 20 per cent more cash is needed for maintenance funding in the coming year. It says at least an extra £100 million is needed for trunk roads, and another £300 million is needed to arrest the decline in local roads.
Mr Everitt said: 'It sounds like a lot of money but you have to take into account the fact that they are not spending much on new build roads.
'We need to get back and reclaim what has been lost.''
New government figures reveal spending on motorways and trunk roads in Scotland will fall by 22 per cent to £110.15 million for the financial year 1998/9.
Scottish junior minister Lord Sewel said in parliament that the reduction 'reflects decisions about the scale of activity on major capital projects' announced by the government earlier this year.