Select Committee on Transport Fifth Report


2  ROAD MAINTENANCE

  9.  This chapter sets out the current understanding of the maintenance backlog, its causes, problems and possible solutions. The chapter is divided into discussion on roads, footpaths, street lighting, cycleways and bridges. Common issues such as the use of the Private Finance Initiative and targets are discussed at the end of the chapter.

The Local road network

INVESTMENT IN THE ROAD NETWORK

  10.  There is a clear link between levels of investment in road maintenance and the quality of our local road network as shown in Figure 1. The data reveals a simple fact: when maintenance expenditure is cut, the condition of the road network deteriorates (the defects index line rises).


Figure 1: Expenditure and defects on non-trunk roads in England
Source: National Road Maintenance Condition Survey:2002

This is not rocket science, yet the Department for Transport accepts that not enough has been spent on road maintenance over recent decades.[7] Investment in non-trunk road maintenance fell significantly between 1994 and 2000. Only in 2002 did spending exceed levels in the early 1990s (levels which themselves were unable to halt the increasing maintenance backlog).[8]

  11.  The Department announced in December 2002 that it would be providing £610 million for local highway maintenance in 2003/04 and £651 million in 2004/05, £50 million and £91 million more respectively than in 2002/03. The revenue provision for highway maintenance provided through authorities' Formula Spending Shares will also rise to £2,005 million and £2,055 million in these two years.[9] This will put spending at just over £2.7 billion in 2004/05, around £0.3 billion per year more than over the period 1991 to 1994.

Local Flexibility

  12.  Data on national spending alone can be misleading as there is considerable local flexibility on the amount that is spent on road maintenance. Until 2003, local authorities received revenue support as part of a block grant under the Standard Spending Assessment.[10] Local Authorities were given indicative allowances on funding for maintenance but had flexibility to move resource funding across budget areas. Further capital grant was allocated for road maintenance through the local transport plan process. Capital grant for transport had to be spent on transport.

  13.  There is now a new way of allocating resources, the 'Formula Spending Share', introduced this year.[11] Local Authorities are given all resource funding as a lump sum for division at a local level according to priorities. Since 2003, capital funding has also been made flexible at a local level and transport allocations therefore also go into a 'single capital pot'. There is now flexibility to carry resources over from one year to the next.

  14.   Alongside the greater flexibility of funding provision, the Government has developed new procedures to assess the performance of local authorities. Measures of performance known as Best Value Performance Indicators are set by the central government departments (including the Department for Transport).[12] Local authorities have a duty, set out in the 1999 Local Government Act, to measure and report performance against these indicators. The Audit Commission independently assesses the procedures for collecting the data, its quality and the authorities' performance against the objectives set out by the indicators.[13]

  15.  The County Surveyor's Society told us that the recent flexibility to spend more one year and less the next was welcome both for revenue and capital funding.[14] It also felt that Best Value Performance Indicators would be sufficient to ensure that local authorities gave sufficient emphasis to road maintenance.[15] Mr Kendrick of the Institution of Highways and Transportation was less convinced of the ability of the current Best Value Performance Indicators to prevent local authorities raiding the maintenance funds.[16] He told us that the Institution had always regarded ring-fencing of funding as a desirable thing "because that provides protection for the budget and the service".[17] The Minister was reluctant to accept the need to ring-fence funding as this would "run slightly counter to the whole drive from the local government sector".[18] We took evidence on the extent to which local authorities were under-spending their notionally allocated budgets and therefore, the extent to which this is a major issue.

Evidence of local under-spend?

  16.  Many organisations acknowledged that cutting road maintenance was a usual response from local authorities faced with budgetary pressures from elsewhere.[19] Yet, although under-spending on road maintenance was commonly seen as a typical response to budget pressures, there is little strong evidence that this is a significant problem nationally. The Department for Transport told us that local authorities had generally spent the amount allocated to them but there were a few local authorities which appeared to systematically under spend.[20] A survey of almost half of all local authorities by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found that in 2002/03 80 per cent of local authorities in England (excluding London) spent all of their structural maintenance allocation.[21] This figure was 91 per cent for local authorities in London. Whilst 20 per cent of local authorities did not spend all their maintenance budgets, 24 per cent of authorities "overspent" their notional budget.[22] This would be an expected consequence of increased flexibility of funding allocation.

  17.   Increased support from central government is key to improving the quality of the local road network. If local roads are to be improved it is essential that this money is not diverted elsewhere at a local level. There is mixed evidence on the extent to which local authorities 'raid' road maintenance funds to support other responsibilities. However, with flexibility over both revenue and capital spending, there is greater potential for any such raiding to be detrimental to road maintenance. The Government must monitor local authorities that systematically under-spend. If the under-spend jeopardises the ability of the local authority to eliminate the maintenance backlog then the Government should take action. Ultimately, this may mean ring-fencing road maintenance budgets until the targets are met. As a first step to prioritising local road maintenance, we recommend that the Department publish an annual comparison of the planned and actual expenditure on road maintenance along with details of road quality for each local authority. People need better information about the performance of their local authorities.

THE CONDITION OF THE ROAD NETWORK

  18.  The Department for Transport publishes a summary of the condition of the national road network every year, the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey. The most recent survey covers 2002.[23] The survey is based on number of measurement techniques. A visual survey is conducted of a sample of all non-motorway roads (excluding the small minority with a concrete surface). In 2002, 132 (out of a possible maximum of 191) local authorities participated in the survey. 12,145 sites were surveyed in 2002 in England and Wales, of which 10,260 were on the non-trunk road network in England. The surveys examine damage to the carriageway from wheel-tracks (cracking and rutting of the road surface), major deterioration of the surface, footpath condition and the conditions of the kerbs and verges. The results of the survey are compared to a 1977 level (which is assigned a value of 100). Surveys are also undertaken of the structural condition of principal roads, trunk roads and motorways and of the skidding resistance of roads.

Road Surface Condition

  19.  The surface condition of all non-trunk roads was at a peak in 1980. Figure 2 shows that from 1980 to 2000 the overall trend is one of decline, particularly in the early 1980s and again in the late 1990s.


Figure 2: Surface condition of all non-trunk roads 1977-2002
Source: National Road Maintenance Condition Survey:2002

  20.  The extra investment since the beginning of the 10 Year Transport Plan in 2001 appears to have halted the trend of decline. The Department now believes that improvements in the 2001 and 2002 surveys are sufficient to be confident that "there has been a significant improvement in local road conditions".[24] This is a matter of interpretation; whilst road surface condition has improved, it is still worse than in 1997 and every year before this since records began in 1977.

  21.  Most, but not all, categories of roads that are assessed to give the national average figure have also improved over the last two years.[25] However, the picture is mixed. The rural principal road network is in the best condition since records began whilst the rural unclassified network continues to deteriorate and is in the worst condition since records began. In urban areas, the condition of principal, classified and unclassified roads all improved in 2002. However, only urban principal roads are in a better condition than in 1997, being in their best condition since 1991.[26]

  22.  The trend in improvements across local authorities is also patchy. The Institution of Highways and Transportation reviewed the trends on road condition from three Best Value Performance Indicators. The summary statistics are shown in Table 1. It appears that as many local authorities' roads are deteriorating as are improving across each of the three Best Value indicators.

Table 1: National Percentage Trends in Road Condition

Indicator
%
improving
%
deteriorating
%
stable
%
uncertain
Best Value 96[27]
(deflectograph method)
31
22
32
15
Best Value 96
(coarse visual inspection method)
7
7
1
85
Best Value 97a[28]
25
24
10
41


Data Source: RPM 02B. Definitions of Best Value indicators are in the National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 2002, p37.

Rural Unclassified road network

  23.  The link between funding and maintenance levels is most clearly demonstrated through the performance of the rural unclassified road network. Devon County Council illustrated the impacts of funding cuts. It told the Committee that over the period from 1992/93 to 1999/2000 it had absorbed a cumulative reduction in funding for maintenance of £37.8 million.[29] The implications of this were a reduction in the average frequency of surface dressing for highways from once every eleven years to once every twenty four years.

  24.  Devon County Council was also concerned by the implications of the recent changes to the Formula Spending Share (FSS) for revenue funds. As a result of changes to FSS there has been a further cut of 21 per cent in the funding available for road maintenance.[30] Gloucestershire County Council echoed the experiences in Devon. It believes it has an existing backlog of £140 million yet its settlement was cut by 25 per cent last year.[31] The Institution of Highways and Transportation acknowledged that whilst some Councils had lost out, others had benefited from the changes. However, Mr Dickinson told us "I think for those who have suffered a significant reduction in their budget, they will have a problem".[32]

  25.  The funding reallocations have led to relative reductions in allocations for some rural or 'shire' counties. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the main deterioration in road conditions continues to be on the rural unclassified road network. Those resources that are available are targeted to the more heavily used rural principal road network. However, this leaves a significant proportion of the network in a poor and worsening state. It would be unreasonable to expect these lesser used roads to be kept in the same condition as the principal road network. However, the deterioration of their condition appears to be going into freefall.

  26.  Minor rural roads are in an appalling state and continue to decline. This has not been helped by the recent changes to funding allocations between local authorities. The Department should determine if changes to the scheme of revenue allocation mean the decline will continue. It must also develop a strategy to halt this trend.

Structural condition of roads

  27.  The sub-surface of a road acts like the foundation of a building. One would not re-furbish a building if the supports were weak and at risk of collapse. The same applies to roads. A good structure underneath the road surface is essential if resurfacing is to do more than simply paper over the cracks. Accordingly, the Department for Transport carries out a structural survey of roads which measures the extent to which roads perform as they should when tested under load. It is only carried out on principal roads and is an important complementary piece of information to the visual survey. The results of the structural survey show that around 17.4 per cent of local authority principal roads require monitoring to see if maintenance is required. As shown in Figure 3, this is on a continuing upward trend. The Department acknowledges that there has been a "further deterioration in the condition of the English Principal road networks".[33]


Figure 3: Percentage of English Principal Road Network requiring close monitoring of structural condition
Data Source: National Road Maintenance Condition Survey:2002

Skidding Resistance

  28.  The Department notes that "one objective of highway maintenance is to increase road safety by ensuring that roads have a satisfactory level of skidding resistance".[34] Surveys of the skidding resistance of roads in wet conditions have been carried out since 2000. The results of the skidding resistance survey also provide considerable cause for concern. Whilst the percentage of the network on motorways and trunk-roads requiring investigation are very low, between 17 and 35 per cent of local authority principal roads require further investigation.

CONSEQUENCES OF INADEQUATE ROAD MAINTENANCE

  29.  The failure to maintain the road network makes roads more dangerous. The Asphalt Industry Association survey estimated that £78 million was spent last year on payments to claimants who suffered damage from poorly repaired roads and pathways.[35] In addition, it estimated that in local authorities in Britain, 47,376 workdays were spent per year in processing and dealing with claims. Kirklees Metropolitan Council told us that "The five West Yorkshire Districts spend over £6,750,000 on insurance premiums alone. This is compared with £16,295,000 on Principal Road maintenance".[36] This may be fuelled by an increase in claims under the new "no win, no fee" system. The Minister for Transport was unable to provide a definitive view on the extent to which compensation claims were increasing but he confirmed "we are moving into a situation generally where we are potentially spending more money than we need to on claims".[37] The true extent of the problem could not be identified due to an inconsistent approach to holding records about claims.[38]

  30.  Local authorities have now established systems to react to problems with roads such as pot holes since a well managed system of responding to identified problems can reduce the liability to which an authority is exposed.[39] The County Surveyor's Society told us that increased spending on short-term maintenance was to "ensure that we tackle and deal with the insurance claims so that we respond and make safe any defects on the network within prescribed response times".[40] Whilst this spending is clearly necessary on safety grounds, small patchwork repairs do not last as long as full resurfacing and do not address the underlying structural problems of the road network. It would therefore be advantageous to keep patch work repairs to a minimum. However, the current extent of such spending is staggering. The Asphalt Industry Alliance estimated that in England in 2002, 32 to 36 per cent of the road maintenance budget is typically used on reactive (rather than planned) maintenance.[41] This problem can only be resolved in the longer-term by more timely replacement of road surfaces. The adage "a stitch in time saves nine" has never been more appropriate.

ESTIMATING THE ROAD MAINTENANCE BACKLOG

  31.  In its 10 Year Plan for Transport, the Department set out its aim "to eliminate the road maintenance backlog by 2010".[42] The Minister for Transport went further than this, telling us that the Department's aim was to tackle "all the backlogs in local carriageway, footway, bridge and street lighting maintenance by 2011".[43]

  32.  The true extent of the maintenance backlog for roads is unclear. The Department for Transport estimated the backlog to be £3.75 billion in 2000.[44] A survey of 30 per cent of local authorities conducted by the Institution of Civil Engineers estimated the backlog of road and bridge maintenance to be £5.5 billion.[45] A survey of almost half of all local authorities by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found that there had been a shortfall of £1.1 billion per year in road maintenance across Britain.[46]

  33.  The Chairman of the County Surveyor's Society, Geoff Allistair, told us that it was not possible to give an accurate figure of the national backlog at this stage due to the number of assumptions involved.[47] However, based on work in a small sample of four counties, Mr Allistair told us that he had "serious doubts"[48] that the current funding levels would clear the backlog and that increases of 50 to 100 per cent may be required.[49]

Inflation of construction costs

  34.  Recent rises in the cost of road maintenance have exacerbated the problem of identifying the true extent of the maintenance backlog and indeed of tackling the current problems. The Civil Engineering Contractors Association conducts a national survey of the index of prices for construction goods. It estimates that costs of aggregate have risen by 10 per cent and those of blacktop and ready mixed concrete by 9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively. There were increases in costs of disposal to landfill of 7 per cent and staff cost rises of a broadly similar level.[50]

  35.  The County Surveyor's Society found that inflation for typical maintenance contracts has jumped from around 3 per cent in 2000 and 2001 to almost 9 per cent in 2002. This was largely made up of increased labour costs (rising 7.3 per cent in 2002) and costs of bituminous products (rising 11.1 per cent in 2002).[51] The Institution of Highways and Transportation provided a further breakdown on the costs of aggregates noting that "The cost of aggregates from 1999 to 2000 went up by 1.8 per cent; the following year by 0.92 per cent. For the year 2001/2, it went up by 3.9 per cent without the aggregate tax and by 18.9 per cent with the aggregate tax, so there has been an almost 20 per cent increase in the price of aggregates that year".[52]

  36.  The Institution of Highways and Transportation believed that the aggregate tax and the landfill levy were a good idea and would encourage more sustainable work practices. However, Mr Kendrick also told us that the theory was that the extra costs would be "recovered through national insurance contributions but it is far from clear how that works through into local authority budgets and contract prices".[53] Mr Roberts from the Department for Transport noted that whilst this was potentially an issue, local authorities were not yet spending all of the money allocated to them for road maintenance on road maintenance.[54]

TACKLING THE BACKLOG

  37.  The County Surveyor's Society told us that some authorities were switching to a longer-term asset management system where planned maintenance would become the norm. This would reduce the number of liability claims and the amount spent on reactive maintenance. However, it believed that such a move would require additional investment.[55] The Audit Commission confirmed that such an approach was common amongst local authorities that performed well in their inspections.[56] The Minister also supported this approach.[57]

  38.  We have serious doubts however over the ability of some local authorities to tackle such significant backlogs, particularly in the short-term. The Audit Commission told us that just 25 per cent of inspected highways maintenance services were classified as good or excellent, the remaining 75 per cent were only fair or poor.[58] Local authorities are having to contend with rising workloads and a skills shortage which hinders planning.[59]

  39.  The historic tendency to starve funds for road maintenance has been wasteful in the extreme. We are now in a situation where one-third of budgets are being spent on reactive, patch and mend maintenance and tens of millions of pounds spent on insurance premiums and pay outs to injured third parties. Some local authorities appear to have little grip on the situation with 75 per cent of highways services classed as fair or poor. The slow but steady squeeze on resources for local maintenance over the last decade has taken a heavy toll. This does not have to be the case.

  40.  The highway departments of many local authorities have been decimated over years of funding cuts. The problems caused by previous short-termism have now come home to roost and only one quarter of local authorities are able to provide good or excellent highway services. The results too often are a lack of information about the scale of the problems, a significant skill shortage and badly managed systems. A local commitment to funding and prioritising highway services and good public information are an essential part of this. Central and local government must ensure that local road maintenance does not slide down the public service agenda.

SUMMARY

  41.  We welcome the significant increase in funding for local road maintenance provided by the Department since 2001. The extra money provided by the Government will clearly help to improve the condition of the road network. Evidence to date suggests that the rise in the maintenance backlog of road surfaces may have been halted.

  42.  It is far less obvious that the Government is on-track to meet its target to eliminate the backlog of local road maintenance by 2010. The local road network is still in a much worse state than throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the true extent of the backlog is not yet known. Even the extra money provided has not made up the hole in expenditure between 1994 and 2001, nor has it allowed for recent increases in the costs of construction. In addition, there are almost 25 per cent (5 million) more vehicles on the roads today than in 1991 and 38 billion more miles are travelled by road every year. Our road network is subject to increasing amounts of wear and tear and costs more to maintain. The Government appears to have underestimated the size of the problem.

Pedestrian Facilities

Every journey we undertake involves the use of footpaths of some sort.[60] 80 per cent of all journeys under one mile in length are undertaken completely on foot.[61] In the UK, 26 per cent of households have no access to a car and 46 per cent of households have access to only one car.[62] For those people without regular access to a car, the provision of high quality walking facilities is essential. It is also essential in providing access to public transport and to and from parking areas.

  43.  The Minister has stated that the Department is committed to the elimination of the backlog of footway maintenance.[63] We were therefore surprised to find examples of local authorities questioning the benefits of footway maintenance. Surrey County Council have found that the "cost of provision (of high quality pedestrian and cycle environments) in relation to use and benefit is high".[64] Devon County Council note that users currently "give carriageway surfaces a higher priority" and that "recognising that an extensive backlog exists in this respect, any additional funding in the short-term will be targeted at carriageway maintenance".[65] Mr Kendrick of the Institution of Highways and Transportation believed that local authorities had a duty to maintain footpaths to a higher standard. He told us that:

"transport policy says we should encourage people to walk first, to cycle second, to catch buses third and to drive cars fourth. The maintenance policy is the other way around. Authorities spend more on carriageways than on footways or cycle ways and some authorities are now starting to change that proportion".[66]

  44.  To help local authorities to prioritise footway maintenance, the Department for Transport has introduced a new Best Value Performance Indicator to monitor the quality of footways from 2002/03.[67]

FOOTWAY CONDITION

  45.  The National Road Maintenance Survey monitors the condition of footways. The condition of almost every category of the 281,000 kilometres of footways in England and Wales has deteriorated since 1997 as shown in Table 2. Since 1996, there has also been a significant and consistent increase in the percentage of footways showing deterioration. This is now at the highest level since 1984. The survey also identifies the number of potentially dangerous pedestrian areas per 100m stretch of road (referred to as "footway trips"). These are shown below in Figure 4. Even though there was a reduction in the number of dangerous sites per 100m in 2002, the levels are still significantly higher than the best recorded condition in 1996.

Table 2: Percentage of Footways subject to deterioration

  
Built-up
Non built-up
All Classes
Year
Principal
Classified
Unclassified
Principal
Classified
1997
16.7
18.7
21.1
26.6
23.1
20.6
2002
20.6
20.5
26.1
27.7
18.6
25.0

Data Source: National Road Maintenance condition Survey: 2002, p23.


Figure 4: Footways Condition (all roads England and Wales)
Data Source: National Road Maintenance Condition Survey:2002

CONSEQUENCES OF BADLY MAINTAINED FOOTWAYS

  46.  Badly maintained footways present a trip hazard to everyone. They are a particular problem for mobility impaired travellers. A survey of 1134 older and disabled people showed that the poor condition of pavements affected seven out of ten respondents' ability to move along the streets. Two out of ten described the poor condition of pavements as the most serious problem facing them upon leaving home.[68] A recent survey of almost 1000 disabled people by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee found that 86 per cent of respondents thought pavement (footway) maintenance was poor and 67 per cent thought road maintenance was poor. These were the worst performing categories of any transport service by far.[69] It is no good ensuring that trains and buses are fully accessible to disabled people if the condition of the footway discourages them from leaving home in the first place. A failure to maintain footways properly goes against the Government's objective to increase social inclusion.

  47.  Whilst it is not possible to be definitive about the extent to which poor maintenance contributes to pedestrian trips and falls, 61,234 hospital consultant episodes were registered in 2001/02 for falls on the same level from slipping, tripping and stumbling. 2,468 episodes were recorded for falls involving ice and snow over the same period.[70] This will have a significant, but as yet poorly defined, cost to the Health Service and the wider economy.

PARKING ON FOOTWAYS

  48.  Parking on pavements contributes significantly to their deterioration.[71] Mr Dickinson from the Institution of Highways and Transportation told us that parking on pavements was a problem but was inevitably going to happen. "If you should not allow it at all, you prevent it. You physically but up barriers to preclude it".[72] Where this was not possible or desirable, he suggested that local authorities design the pavement to a higher standard that could support parking.

FOOTWAY SUMMARY

  49.  The Minister told us that it is the Department wants to eliminate the footway maintenance backlog. Such a policy is long overdue. Poorly maintained footpaths create constant difficulty for any pedestrian. They are a particular danger for the elderly and disabled. A failure to maintain footpaths also ignores the large costs to the NHS and the national economy from tens of thousands of trips and falls. Footpaths are getting worse. We have little confidence that, taken with an apparent bias towards road maintenance, the backlog will be cleared. In November 2001 the then Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions committed itself to publish a national walking strategy. This has still to be done and is indicative of the continuing mismatch between the rhetoric and action on walking by the Department. The strategy should set out how the footway maintenance target will be met. It must be published without delay.

Street Lighting

IMPORTANCE OF STREET LIGHTING

Road Safety

  50.  Street lighting is an essential part of the street environment yet it has not had the same prominence in national transport policy as road condition. Gloucestershire County Council note that:

"although traffic levels tend to drop to about 16 per cent of daytime levels, 23 per cent of accidents occur during the dark hours. Additionally, serious injuries result from 19.7 per cent of night accidents compared with 11.8 per cent of day accidents. TRL research indicates that on average night time accidents are reduced by 30 per cent when new lighting is installed and, by upgrading old below standard lighting, a 25 per cent reduction is likely to be achieved".[73]

A review of the evidence base by TRL showed that whilst there is a link between good lighting and improved road safety, less confidence can be attached to the magnitude of the benefits of lighting than implied above.[74]

Improved Security

  51.  In addition to improving road safety, a Home Office study found that good street lighting has been demonstrated to reduce crime by up to 20 per cent and also to reduce the fear of crime.[75] It was also found to increase community pride and social interaction. The study concluded that "improvements in street lighting offer a cost-effective crime reduction measure".[76]

A danger to the public

  52.  Whilst a failure to maintain street lighting may not present the same image of danger as a pot hole in the road or a cracked paving slab, it is a dangerous and potentially fatal policy. A failure to maintain street lighting, in the same way as a failure to maintain roads, can have serious consequences; in Westminster a woman was seriously injured by a lighting column which collapsed.[77] The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group point out that one successful injury accident claim of £1 million could be used to replace 1700 lighting columns.[78]

MONITORING STREET LIGHTING

  53.  The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group told us that street lighting has not been given sufficient emphasis in recent years. Indeed, whilst an indicative allocation is made in the local transport plan settlements for road and bridge maintenance, there is no allocation for street lighting.[79] This, it believes, sends a negative message to local authorities about the relative importance of street lighting. There is also currently no local best value indicator for assessing the quality of the structure of street lighting columns. There used to be Best Value Performance Indicator relating to the average cost of running a street light (BVPI 95). This was discontinued as it combined issues of cost and effectiveness and was not easy to interpret.[80] The other indicator (BVP98) relates to the percentage of street lights not working as planned. However, neither of these have put pressure on local authorities to prioritise the replacement of unsafe street lighting.

INVESTMENT IN STREET LIGHTING

  54.  There are 4.7 million street lighting columns in the UK with an estimated replacement cost of £4 billion.[81] The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group estimated that in 2000 £40 million per year was being spent on renewing the network, equating to 100 year life for a typical street lighting column.[82] The Department told us that investment has increased now to around £130 million per year.[83]

  55.  The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group told us that the design life of street lighting columns was supposed to be 25 years.[84] Around 32 per cent of the lighting network is over 30 years old and, on current replacement rates, this proportion will increase significantly by 2010.[85] It estimates that to maintain the lighting stock at its current age would require a replacement rate three and a half times higher than the current rate. The Institution of Civil Engineers estimates the cost of the backlog to be £1.1 billion.[86] The Department believed it to be slightly lower at around £1 billion.[87]

  56.  The Department recognised that considerable uncertainty exists over the true extent of the maintenance backlog and has asked local authorities to determine the condition of their lighting by July 2003.[88] Many of the problems with the safety of street lighting columns relate to their condition below ground level. It is not practical to investigate the condition of all columns below ground and the identification of replacement needs will therefore be based on samples.[89] Once this has been carried out, the authorities will be able to target those columns most at risk of collapse to be replaced first rather than simply replacing all columns on the basis of their age. The Department noted that this will be a more cost effective approach.[90] We acknowledge the positive work that is being undertaken by local authorities and the Department to tackle this issue through the 'Lighting Board'.[91]

OTHER STREET LIGHTING ISSUES

Connections to the electricity supply network

  57.  Under current regulations, street lighting columns have to be connected, or reconnected by one of the electricity supply companies. OFGEM and DTI are currently in negotiations with the companies to open up the market for connections. The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group estimates that such competition could mean 25 to 30 per cent more street columns could be installed for the same cost.[92] Connections could also be completed more rapidly. However, negotiations have taken well over a year and have yet to conclude. The Department for Transport told us that DTI and OFGEM lead on this initiative but that it was providing support.[93] It is now four months since we took evidence from the Department and as yet, no agreement has been reached. The dilatory performance of OFGEM and the DTI in addressing the issue of street lighting connections is preventing local authorities from getting more out of their street lighting budgets. The DTI must resolve this issue urgently.

Light Pollution

  58.  The Government's Rural White Paper noted that "light pollution of the night sky is an increasing intrusion into the countryside at night, and it is an issue that we want all rural authorities to take into account in their planning and other decisions".[94] The Council for the Protection of Rural England suggested that better quality lighting that avoids light being emitted upwards should be installed as standard in rural settings where light pollution is a concern.[95] It told us that it had "not seen tangible evidence of this filtering through into local transport policy or local planning decisions".[96]

  59.  Mr Elphick of APLG and Durham County Council disagreed. He told us that he tended to avoid the use of lighting to solve accident black spots in rural areas as it was not popular and there were often other solutions.[97] We support the use of street lighting that reduces light pollution and is more efficient. Local authorities should give due attention to this matter when replacing the large numbers of street lights that are beyond their current design life. We note that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has recently launched an inquiry into Light Pollution and Astronomy. We trust that it will give adequate attention to the need to ensure good road safety and to reduce street crime.[98]

STREET LIGHTING SUMMARY

  60.  The Minister for Transport has stated that the backlog in street lighting will be cleared by 2011. It is hard to share his certainty when the extent of the backlog is unknown. If this claim is to be credible, we expect a fully costed programme to be developed as part of the review of the 10 Year Plan. The Department should also provide indicative allocations of funding for street lighting as part of any future local transport plan settlements and consider whether further measures are required to ensure progress in this important area. Street lighting should not be the poor relation to road and pathway maintenance - they are all part of a safe and secure street environment.

Two-Wheelers

CYCLISTS

  61.  In 1996, the Government established a National Cycling Strategy with a target to quadruple cycling by the end of 2012. To date, progress towards the target has been minimal. The decline in cycling has been stopped but use is only around 8 per cent higher than in 1996.[99] The Cyclists Touring Club told the Committee that it would like to see the roads made a safer place for cyclists rather than the construction of too many segregated cycle paths. It therefore gave the issue of road maintenance a high priority because it believes cyclists "are disproportionately victims of appallingly maintained road surfaces".[100] 12 per cent of all of the legal claims processed through the Cyclist Touring Club's legal aid service relate to road-maintenance related incidents.[101] If more than one in ten car accidents were as a result of poor maintenance then there would be a national outcry.

  62.  Cyclists usually use the strip of road closest to the kerb. Problems frequently encountered by cyclists include pot holes, debris brushed to the side of the road and manholes which are not flush to the road surface.[102] The standards dictate that there should not be more than a six millimetre vertical height difference between the carriageway and a manhole cover or drain but "the theory and the practice do not often match up on this".[103] In addition, poor lighting and vegetation that is not trimmed back on off-road cycle paths and inadequate attention to cycle routes during road works were also cited as problems.[104]

  63.  The Department for Transport acknowledges that "verges on built-up unclassified roads, which are generally through residential streets, are in the worst condition".[105] 11.2 per cent of such verges were measured as deteriorating in 2002, compared to 7.1 per cent in 1998.[106] It is not hard to imagine the difficulties that such conditions cause cyclists. Swerving into the road to avoid potholes, flooded drains and glass is unsafe. Areas resurfaced by utility companies following repairs run along and across cyclists routes and can also cause problems as the joins between the repair and the road decay over time. We return to this issue in Chapter 3.

  64.  The Government has recently established the English Regions Cycling Development Team. As yet, little attention has been given to the issue of road maintenance and cycling facilities. Indeed, CTC pointed out that very few local authorities actually knew where their busiest cycle routes were. Even fewer regularly inspected and maintained them to a high enough standard.[107] Guidance from the English Regions Cycling Development Team may help to improve the attention local authorities give to the condition of busy cycle routes.

  65.  Local authorities and Government are letting cyclists down by failing to ensure the road network is kept in a condition safe for them to use. This must be a key factor in deterring potential cyclists and in the disappointing levels of cycle use. We recommend that the Department publish a revision of its "Cycle Friendly Infrastructure" advice. This should contain a review of maintenance procedures and techniques.

POWERED TWO-WHEELERS

  66.  Powered two-wheelers form an increasingly important part of our transport system, with 941,000 vehicles licensed in 2002.[108] The Motorcycle Industry Association also noted that its members also suffered disproportionately from poor road maintenance. The needs of motorcyclists are different from pedal cyclists. The Association proposed a number of measures that should be taken in order to take greater account of the increasing numbers of powered two-wheelers on our streets.[109] These include greater consideration of skidding resistance, the use of higher quality repair materials instead of tar and loose chippings and better road sweeping. The Association note that little attention is given to the needs of motorcyclists in official road guidance notes. The Department should review its maintenance guidance to ensure the needs of motorcyclists are properly understood.

Bridges

  67.  It is not yet apparent that the Government understands the urgency with which we need to upgrade our network of bridges. Recent changes to European legislation allowing 40 tonne trucks to use roads has meant that an increasing number of bridges need to be upgraded to a higher standard.[110] The County Surveyor's Society estimate the maintenance backlog for bridges, largely to upgrade them to allow 40 tonne trucks to use them, stands at over £330 million.[111] The Department for Transport estimated the backlog to be £750 million in 2000 but has set up a new working group to establish the backlog more accurately.[112] Mr Elphick of Durham County Council told us that the true state of knowledge of the maintenance backlog for bridges was even less well known than that for road maintenance and street lighting.[113]

  68.  Mr Lugg of Cambridgeshire County Council told us that local authorities examined the value for money of any bridge upgrade and that:

"there will be a large number of bridges that will need to be brought up to strength. On the other hand, many authorities are taking the view that there are some bridges that do not need money spending on them because they are on minor roads or areas which would not impact on freight traffic. So the balance is being struck between bridges which need to be brought up to strength to support the economy and those which do not".[114]

  69.  The issue of bridge strengthening has been known about for some time yet the requirements to upgrade the network are still unknown. The Government should produce a costed action plan in agreement with local authorities and the freight industry and solve this problem.

Private Finance

  70.  The Department for Transport has provided £578 million in Private Finance Initiative (PFI) credits to allow local authorities to tackle their street lighting backlogs and has also supported the use of PFI to address the local road maintenance backlog.[115] The Minister for Transport noted that the Highways Agency had used PFI very efficiently and that it could also prove suitable at a local level. The Minister told us that PFI was only one of a range of possible options for local authorities.[116]

CURRENT PFI DEALS

  71.  The reaction to the use of PFI for solving the maintenance and street lighting backlogs was mixed. Portsmouth City Council are developing the first PFI for local road maintenance and believe that it is the only way it will be able to meet the Government's target to eliminate the backlog. However, it noted that setting up a PFI is costly and labour intensive and a lack of Government financial support for this aspect may "deter other Local Authorities from pursuing a similar approach".[117] Birmingham City Council also did not believe it would be able to improve its road condition without the extra resources available through PFI but was concerned about the length of time to develop a deal.[118]

  72.  Brent and Walsall Councils are developing PFI solutions to tackle their street lighting backlogs. Mr Webster, a consultant involved in establishing the Brent PFI told us that "no PFI had been met in less than a two year timescale" and that there were "huge costs in tendering", running to several millions of pounds.[119] Most parties agreed that with experience, the cost of developing a PFI should fall but it will be difficult to reduce the timescale to develop a PFI much below two years. Whilst a small number of deals are under development now, other deals are unlikely to be in a position to start before mid 2005. This only allows five or six years to eliminate the road maintenance backlog if the Government's target is to be met. The scale of disruption that would result from an authority attempting to eliminate the backlog over such a short period may be prohibitive.

RATIONALE FOR PFI

  73.  The Minister believed that PFI would bring greater efficiency from the private sector.[120] Many Local Authorities doubted this, as their maintenance plans already drew on considerable private sector expertise through new partnership agreements.[121] Barnsley Metropolitan Council believed that there was a lack of information about the performance of PFI projects at a local level on which to base any decisions.[122]

SIZE OF PFI DEALS

  74.  The costs in establishing a PFI run into many millions of pounds. For such a scheme to offer value for money, any agreements must run over many years and offer the potential for savings that will offset this initial outlay. This requires a very significant backlog in either road maintenance or street lighting. Mr Elphick, Chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group told us that "With a PFI you tend to go out and replace a large number of columns to make a PFI viable" and that "most authorities will have a reasonably balanced lighting stock and this is exactly why we developed these risk management procedures whereby you could identify the columns most at risk and go and see whether they need to be replaced". [123] Mr Blaiklock, a PFI specialist believed that "most experienced PFI/PPP lenders will not contemplate committing funds to a PPP for a loan of less than £30 million, say. The up-front costs do not make funding of lower amounts cost-effective….Hence , any PFI/PPP maintenance project will have to have a value of £40 to £50 million".[124] Surrey County Council appeared to confirm this after an examination of the potential for introducing a PFI on road maintenance in 2000. Since the road condition was in a reasonable state of repair it decided that "the returns on a PFI and the financial commitment involved were neither satisfactory nor practicable".[125]

  75.  The Associate Parliamentary Lighting Group also noted that whilst the provision of PFI credits was welcome, it would only cover 10 to 15 out of over 150 Local Authorities. The remainder of the authorities would have to find the resources from Local Transport Plan and FSS revenue allocations which, we noted earlier, are unlikely to be adequate.

SUMMARY

  76.  The Private Finance Initiative is one way to provide funding to eliminate the maintenance backlog. However, although it has been used extensively by the Highways Agency, its application on a much smaller scale for local authorities is in its infancy. It has yet to be demonstrated that the high bidding and start-up costs will be offset by improved efficiency. This is particularly so given the high degree of private sector involvement and partnership agreements already employed by local authorities in this area. We agree with the Department that PFI for road and street lighting maintenance will only be applicable in a minority of cases. Greater funding through traditional channels will be necessary to clear the backlog. Good maintenance is the least that the travelling public deserve.

Targets

  77.  The Department has found that recent increases in funding have enabled local authorities to improve the surface condition on most roads. The measure of surface condition is a useful headline indicator. If this progress is continued, it will have met its target to halt the deterioration in the condition of local roads by 2004. However, the underlying condition of the roads and the condition of verges and footpaths continues to deteriorate. The quality of all aspects of the road, not just the surface, is important and must be improved. The Minister told us that the backlogs of maintenance for street lighting and footways would be eliminated by 2011 yet there is no official target for either of these. Whilst the proliferation of targets may not be an ideal solution, it appears that targets in one area and not another inevitably leads to a distortion of spending priorities. The wide range of indicators for measuring road condition do not yet paint a consistent picture of progress. The Government should set out clearly which indicators will be used to measure progress.

  78.  Whilst it is clear what is meant by "halt the deterioration" of road condition for the 2004 target, the Department has yet to specify what it believes will constitute an elimination of the maintenance backlog. Until it specifies this, it is difficult to assess progress towards the target. The Department has not yet set out the criteria that each measure would have to meet for the maintenance backlog to be eliminated. It should do so immediately to allow objective monitoring of progress.




7   Q331 Back

8   Department for Transport, Delivering Better Transport: Progress Report, Para 4.61 Back

9   IbidBack

10   The Standard Spending Assessment and Formula Spending Share are described in Local Government Finance in England: Replacing the Standard Spending Assessment Research Paper 02/56, House of Commons Library, October 2002 Back

11   The Formula Grant Support System - Supporting Key Public Services, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, www.local.odpm.gov.uk/finance/ Back

12   The current Best Value Performance Indicators can be found at http://www.roads.dft.gov.uk/ Back

13   http://www.bvpi.gov.uk Back

14   Q120 Back

15   Q128 Back

16   Q288-289 Back

17   Q293 Back

18   Q364 Back

19   RPM 02, RPM 17, RPM 27, RPM 28 Back

20   Q361, Q363 Back

21   Asphalt Industry Alliance, Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2003, April 2003 Back

22   Ibid. Back

23   Department for Transport, National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 2002, Transport Statistics Bulletin SB (03) 20 Back

24   Ibid, p9 Back

25   See Annex 2 for a description of the different road classifications Back

26   National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 2002, p16 Back

27   BV96 is the percentage of the principal roads network where structural maintenance should be considered Back

28   BV97a is the percentage of the non-principal classified roads network, i.e. classified B and C roads, where structural maintenance should be considered Back

29   RPM 39 Back

30   Ibid. Back

31   RPM 37 Back

32   Q291 Back

33   National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 2002, p32 Back

34   Ibid., p41 Back

35   Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2003 Back

36   RPM 30 Back

37   Q367 Back

38   RPM 28A Back

39   Ibid. Back

40   Q125 Back

41   Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2003 Back

42   Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan , July 2000 Back

43   Q329 Back

44   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan Back

45   Institution of Civil Engineers, Local Transport and Public Realm Survey 2002, www.ice.org.uk Back

46   Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2003 Back

47   Q115 Back

48   Q116 Back

49   Q118 Back

50   CECA National Survey, 6 December 2002 Back

51   RPM 28A Back

52   Q282 Back

53   Q283 Back

54   Q365 Back

55   Q125 Back

56   Q237 Back

57   Q367 Back

58   RPM 12 Back

59   RPM 28A, Q136, Q137 Back

60   Pavement, footway and footpath are used interchangeably in this report. They refer to tarmac or paving slab covered paths rather than footpaths in open countryside. Back

61   Department for Transport, Transport Statistics Great Britain 2002, October 2002 Back

62   Ibid. Back

63   Q329 Back

64   RPM 18 Back

65   RPM 39 Back

66   Q276 Back

67   RPM 33 Back

68   RPM 41 Back

69   Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, Annual Report 2002, March 2003 Back

70   RPM 33A Back

71   RPM 31, RPM 17A, Q278 Back

72   Q279 Back

73   RPM 37 Back

74   Hargroves, R.A. and Scott, P.P, Measurements of road lighting and accidents - the results (Crowthorne, 1979), ISSN 0033-3603 Back

75   Farrington, D. an Welsh, C., Effects of improved street lighting on crime: a systematic review, Home Office Research Study 251, 2002 Back

76   Ibid. Back

77   RPM 27 Back

78   Ibid. Back

79   RPM 27A Back

80   RPM 12 Back

81   Q387, RPM 27 Back

82   RPM 27 Back

83   Q390 Back

84   Q169 Back

85   Ibid. Back

86   Local Transport and Public Realm Survey 2002 Back

87   Q389 Back

88   RPM 27A Back

89   Q161 Back

90   Q390 Back

91   The Lighting Board is a group convened by the Department for Transport to discuss matters of concern to industry and local authorities with regards street lighting. Back

92   RPM 27A Back

93   Q392 Back

94   Department of the Environment. Transport and the Regions and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Our Countryside - the Future, Cm 4909, November 2000, para 9.4.4 Back

95   The CPRE launched a campaign against light pollution on 9 May 2003 - Night BlightBack

96   RPM 01 Back

97   Q167-168 Back

98   Light Pollution and Astronomy, Press Notice 15, February 2003, Science and Technology Committee Back

99   Department for Transport, Transport Statistics Bulletin: Traffic in Great Britain 1 2003, SB (03) 6, May 2003 Back

100   Q323 Back

101   RPM 29 Back

102   RPM 29 Back

103   Q300 Back

104   Ibid., Q298 Back

105   National Road Maintenance Condition Survey: 2002, p25 Back

106   Ibid. Back

107   Q295, Q297 Back

108   Department for Transport, Vehicle Licensing Statistics: 2002, SB(03) 21. Over 300,000 more powered two-wheelers were registered in 2002 than in 1997. Back

109   RPM 26 Back

110   EC Directive 96/53/EEC which came into force in the UK in January 1999. Back

111   RPM 28 Back

112   RPM 33 Back

113   Q193 Back

114   Q139 Back

115   Q329 Back

116   Q382 Back

117   RPM 36 Back

118   RPM 16 Back

119   Q171 Back

120   Q382 Back

121   RPM 17, RPM 28, RPM 30, RPM 43 Back

122   RPM 42 Back

123   Q174 Back

124   RPM 08 Back

125   RPM 18 Back


 
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