Currently reading: UK road and pothole repairs fall to lowest level in five years
Government slammed as RAC report finds 29% repair reduction; would now take 11 years to put everything right

The length of road being resurfaced or otherwise improved in the UK has fallen to its lowest point in five years, analysis by the RAC has revealed.

The automotive services provider found a 29% reduction in the number of miles of road completely resurfaced from 2017/2018 to 2021/2022, with 1588 miles done in 2017/2018 and 1123 miles done in 2021/2022.

It was also found that, of the 153 road authorities sampled by the Department for Transport (DfT), 31% didn't carry out resurfacing works, while 51% didn't carry out surface-dressing work, wherein the lifespan of a road is extended without the need for full resurfacing.

Surface dressing itself was also found to be down on 2017/2018 levels by 34%.

This comes after news earlier this year that council compensation to road users affected by defects in the road could have repaired 340,000 potholes.

However, a survey from the 2023 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (Alarm) claims that local authorities in England would have needed an average of an extra £7.7 million each last year to reach their own target road conditions, and it would now cost £14.02 billion and 11 years to bring the network up to a standard from which it could be maintained efficiently.

Motorway 3

The RAC's head of policy, Simon Williams said: “These figures paint an incredibly stark picture of road maintenance in England and confirm our worst fears about the overall decline in the state of the country’s roads.

"While the government has made more money available to authorities to fill potholes, it’s the general reduction in road improvement work that’s causing potholes to appear in the first place."

Council areas found to resurface the highest proportion of their roads were Kent, freshening up 29 miles of its 502-mile A-road network, and Southend-on-Sea (in Essex), at 21 miles. Lincolnshire surface dressed most of its A-roads, at 50 miles out of 661.

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Rick Green, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, said: “To really improve conditions and create a safe, resilient and sustainable network, what’s needed is a longer-term funding horizon from central government with more highway budget ringfencing. This would help local authority engineers to plan effectively and implement more efficient works to protect and enhance the resilience of the local road network.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “It’s for local authorities to maintain their highways, and to help them do that we’re investing more than £5 billion from 2020 to 2025, with an extra £200 million announced at the Budget in March, to resurface roads up and down the country.

“We’ve also brought in new rules to clamp down on utility companies leaving potholes behind after carrying out street works.”

Potential solutions recommended by the RAC include asphalt preservation, which is designed to seal and maintain roads to prevent water ingress and the repetitive freeze-thaw cycle that causes roads to deteriorate. This technique is already used by private companies on so-called green and amber roads, such as the M6 Toll and M40, and is used to reduce costs.

Pothole pavement

Further to the traffic-light system, which road authorities use to categorise roads based on their need for repair, Road Surface Treatments Association chief executive Paul Boss said: “There has never been a more important time to undertake preventative maintenance on roads in what we call green and amber conditions, even where pothole repairs may well be required before the surface dressing can be undertaken. 

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"The preventative dressing on green and amber carriageways will keep them in a safe and serviceable condition, enabling authorities to manage their red roads that require high investment."

It was also suggested that surface treatments would cut traffic delays as a result of repair times shortened from days to a matter of hours, doing without the need for road closures.

It was also announced earlier in the year that the DfT tabled a £5.5 billion clampdown on road-surface defects, including strict reviews to be carried out post-work in the form of performance-based inspections. 

The cost of the review billed to the firm responsible for the road was £50 per inspection plus a further £120 for follow-ups. It was joined by an additional £200m allocated to pothole repairs

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scotty5 13 September 2023

Cash strapped? All we need to do is to attract World Cycling events. Lots of lovely smooth roads up here in Central Scotland, or at least those roads which hosted the recent UCI World Championships. Money no object.

I'm gobsmacked at the condition of even major roads on those occasions I drive thru Glasgow. It's bad for motorists but must be deadly for cyclists. I just wouldn't cycle there. Some of those roads, especially on the Southside, look as if the RAF have been using them for bombing practise.

Do we really have to wait until someone dies before action is taken?

Andrew1 13 September 2023
Some of those smooth roads have posted signs saying "Built with EU funds". Just saying.
Peter Cavellini 13 September 2023

Yes UK Roads are bad, they're bad because cash strapped Councils can't afford to do a proper repair, they stick out roving repair hit squads who ,when they go to or see a hole throw a couple of shovels of Tar mix in tap in in place and leave, it's usually a hole again within 24hrs, so, how an this be improved?

gagaga 13 September 2023

Start by stopping the oft repeated myth that councils are cash-strapped.

They've plenty of money for their thinly-veiled politicing with rainbow crossings and diversity officers and transvestite storytime in the local library.  They have money, they choose to spend it elsewhwere.

My local council did just resurface the main road next to mine, and did it properly including grinding down a good 10-15cm of the existing before relaying.  But that was before the lib dems took over, so I don't expect it will be done again, ever.

Andrew1 13 September 2023
Because lib dems will have the council forever, or because tories won't do it either, ever again?