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£200m Budget pothole fund insufficient, say highways experts

Councils have welcomed a £200m fund in today’s Budget to repair potholes, but said it was not enough to tackle the poor condition of the roads.

The Budget document said the potholes challenge fund for 2014/15 would enable councils to repair up to 3.2 million potholes following the severe weather.

In his speech, chancellor George Osborne said councils would have to bid for the money.

Steve Kent, president of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport, whose members include council highways chiefs, said: “It is welcome, of course, but for the last three or four years we have had about £100m at this time of year after severe weather. It is helpful but it will not go a long way to address the underlying condition of the road network.”

A survey of councils in England and Wales by the Asphalt Industry Alliance last year found it would cost £10.5bn to bring the roads up to a decent standard. Councils in the survey also estimated that repairs needed following 2012’s severe rainfall would cost £338m.

Mr Kent added that requiring councils to bid for the fund would mean that councils would use scarce resources on bidding – and some would be unsuccessful – whereas this would not be the case if the money was allocated without a bid process.

A spokesman for the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation said: “The idea of a challenge fund needs to ensure that it does not place additional pressures on local authorities through the bidding process whilst achieving government efficiency targets. 

“Whilst we were pleased to see the capital departmental expenditure limit for transport rising from £9bn in 2014/15 to £9.5bn in 2015/16, we have concerns about ongoing resource pressures for local authorities, particularly in regards to their revenue funding.”

Councils’ revenue funding, which comes from the Department for Communities and Local Government as a lump sum to run all their services, pays for staffing and services like drainage maintenance, gritting, and reactive repairs.

The government announced £100m for potholes in the 2011 Budget, and this month announced £140m made up of £103.5m grant for road maintenance to English councils and a £36.5m bid fund for roads affected by severe weather.

Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association, said: “George Osborne states that he wishes to enhance the economic recovery and improve the resilience of UK infrastructure, yet his piecemeal ‘every little helps’ approach fails to address the fundamental problem of years of under-investment and ongoing cutting of local authority highway budgets. His approach is that of using a sticking plaster rather than curing the problem. Any additional funding will be welcomed by hard-pressed local authorities despite the indignity of their having to enter a bidding war against each other for the funds.”

The Chancellor also announced £140m to repair flood defences in England. There will also be £30m for Wales and Scotland, a Treasury spokesman said.

The Budget document said £100m would be spent in 2014/15 and £70m in 2015/16. The money will go to the Environment Agency.


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