Potholes increasing as new report shows deteriorating state of roads

More than half the local road network in England and Wales could fail in the next 15 years, as a backlog of repairs reaches a record high.

As more and more potholes appear, with the potential to impact wheel alignment and cause suspension damage, the new ALARM (Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance) survey report highlights the increasing state to roads in England and Wales, with the amount needed to fix a backlog of repairs set at £16.3 billion.

Poor local road conditions impact the everyday lives of drivers, from the cost and inconvenience of damage to vehicles, to potentially causing accidents that can prove fatal for more vulnerable road users such as cyclists. They are the number one complaint in local politicians’ post bags, yet highway teams do not get enough funding to fix them. 

Potholes pandemic

The number of potholes filled in this year’s survey, which looked back at the whole of 2023, jumped 43% to 2.0 million from 1.4 million in 2022/23. This is the largest number reported since ALARM 2016 and is the equivalent of one pothole being worked on every 16 seconds in England (including London) and Wales.

Almost 90% (88%) of authorities responding to the ALARM survey stated that they use a guideline depth of 40mm (or less) to define potholes.

Qualitative feedback highlighted that more frequent weather extremes are taking their toll across the network and that repairs to potholes remain only one element of the challenges local authorities dealt with in the last year, which also included flooding and landslides.

The average cost of filling a pothole, both planned and reactive, across all regions is £72.26. As a result, the total amount spent in England and Wales last year is estimated at £143.5 million, up 50% from the £95.6 million reported last year. 

The increase in the number of potholes being filled highlights the continuing deterioration of road surfaces across the country, and the situation seems to have gotten worse since the start of 2024, with reports of vehicle damage increasing.

This does, therefore, suggest potentially increased work for garages when it comes to wheel alignment and suspension repairs from potholes. Businesses need to ensure they are ready for more work in these areas, as roads become worse in the months ahead. 

The report states that the amount paid in road-user compensation claims in the last year, which will include those affected by damage from potholes, reached £15.2 million last year. 

ALARM Bells ringing

The ALARM survey shows that the number of ‘good’ roads in England with 15-years’ or more life has dropped from 54% in 2021/2022 to 48% in 2023/2024. The number of ‘adequate’ roads with five to 15-years’ of life left has increased, from 28% to 35% in the same period. 

The figures in Wales are worse, with ‘good’ roads falling from 61% to 48%, while ‘adequate’ roads have risen from 28% to 36%. More worrying is the number of ‘poor’ roads in the country, with less than five years’ life remaining. These have risen from 11% in 2021/2022, to 16% in 2023/2024. 

“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,” says Rick Green, Chair of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, which commissions the ALARM survey. 

“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.” 

The report states that England and Wales now have more than 107,000 miles of local roads that could need to practically be rebuilt within the next 15 years while surface conditions have also declined.

“The Transport Secretary was quoted as saying that the additional £8.3 billion over 11 years is enough to resurface 5,000 miles of local roads,” added Green. This sounds like a lot, but not when you consider that there are already more than 34,000 miles identified as structurally poor, with less than five years’ life remaining. 

“We need to get to the point where local authority highway engineers can plan and proactively carry out repairs and preventative works in the most timely and efficient way to the greatest benefit of all road users, rather than just having enough money to address immediate and urgent needs.”

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