£16bn needed to stop pothole-ridden roads hitting ‘breaking point’

The rate of pothole repairs in England and Wales is now at its highest in eight years, according to a new report, as experts warn £16bn is needed to fix them.

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) which carried out the research, local roads are heading towards “breaking point” due to the amount of vital repairs needed.

The AIA’s annual Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (Alarm) survey found that local authorities expect to fix two million potholes in the current financial year.

That is up 43 per cent compared with 1.4 million during the previous 12 months, and is the highest annual total since 2015/16 when 2.2 million potholes were filled in.

A car is driven past a pothole in a damaged road in Liverpool, north west England on January 30, 2024. Potholes across the UK are thought to number more than one million, according to vehicle-breakdown company RAC, owing to a widely-perceived lack of government investment for long-lasting repairs. For some, the poor state of Britain's roads is symptomatic of other crumbling infrastructure across the country, including Victorian-era hospitals, schools and sewers. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A damaged road in Liverpool where potholes are yet to be fixed (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP)

Meanwhile, the report also revealed the amount needed to fix the backlog of local road repairs has reached a record £16.3bn, up 16 per cent from £14bn a year ago and the highest figure in 29 years of the study.

The AIA report said: “Local authorities, who have a statutory responsibility to keep local roads safe, don’t have the funds to do so in a cost-effective, proactive way, which would allow them to carry out the appropriate maintenance interventions at the right time.”

Councillor Darren Rodwell, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, added: “The backlog of repairs now stands at almost double the extra amount that Government has promised over the next 11 years.”

The impact of potholes ranges from disrupted journeys to damage to vehicles to potentially fatal accidents, particularly for vulnerable road users such as cyclists.

According to FixMyStreet, a service that receives pothole complaints, reports spike in February and March as cold weather and wet conditions weaken the road.

In England and Wales, just 47 per cent of local road miles were rated as being in a good condition last year, with 36 per cent adequate and 17 per cent poor, the AIA report found.

And even though potholes are being repaired rapidly, surface conditions continue to decline and a one-time catch up repair will cost a decade to complete, the report warned.

Asphalt Industry Alliance chairman Rick Green said: “Local authorities have a bit more money to spend this year but the impact of rising costs due to inflation means they have actually been able to do less with it.

“Couple this with the effects of the extreme weather we are increasingly facing, and the result is that the rate at which local roads are suffering is accelerating towards breaking point.”

FixMyStreet emphasised the need for maintenance to keep the streets in general good condition – not just patching potholes.

“Solving potholes can’t be a quick fix: it needs constant funding to maintain and care for the public realm,” said Myf Nixon, spokesperson for the group.

AA president Edmund King said: “Our breakdown data shows that 2023 was the worst year for potholes for five years.

“Arguably the road network is a local council’s biggest asset, but not enough planned investment and repairs are being made to make streets safer and smoother for drivers and those on two wheels.”

Nicholas Lyes, director of policy and standards at charity IAM RoadSmart, said: “The AIA’s report lays bare the crumbling state of our road network as well as the effort and money now required to fix it.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We’re taking decisive action to resurface roads and fix potholes by investing an extra £8.3bn of reallocated HS2 funding, the biggest ever funding increase for local road improvements and enough to resurface over 5,000 miles of roads across the country.

“In addition, we have made £150m available for local authorities right now meaning funding for most authorities has increased by almost a third compared to last year, with a further £150m to follow in the coming financial year.”