Transport chiefs plot radical roads reform as repairs backlog hits £1.2bn
A radical shake-up of the way Scotland’s roads are repaired is being considered as transport chiefs admit they don’t have enough cash to deal with a £1.2 billion pothole backlog.
Fed up motorists are reporting hundreds of holes to councils every day, with the recent cold snap worsening the state of thousands of roads across the country.
A report from a Scottish Government taskforce, chaired by transport minister Humza Yousaf, says money for repairing roads has dropped by 26% over the last five years and brands spending on national highways as “not sufficient”.
Significantly, the report warns the scale of the country’s £1.2 billion pothole backlog means retaining 33 roads authorities “is likely to be unsustainable”.
Mr Yousaf signed off publication of the report, along with local authority umbrella group COSLA, so the intervention opens the door for the merging of council roads departments, with any cash saved ploughed into repairing the creaking transport network.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, said: “This is another depressing report on the state of Scotland’s roads and backs up what I hear from IAM members – our roads have never been in such a bad state.
“I almost feel sorry for the engineers who have to watch as their roads are pulverised by the triple whammy of bad weather, increasing traffic and decreasing budgets.
“This report could not be clearer – the backlog of £1.2 billion cannot be fixed unless difficult political decisions are made.
“Without new money the only hope being put forward by the experts is to share services to save costs.
“This has already been shown to work in Ayrshire and Tayside and other councils need to crack on and do it.
“Reorganisation alone will not be enough to save our roads but combined with long-term funding and political will we might just get the roads Scotland’s drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians deserve.”
The Road Maintenance Strategic Action Group (RMSAG) was set up by Transport Scotland and is chaired by Mr Yousaf and COSLA, with the country’s chief transport officers and the Scottish Road Works Commissioner also on board.
The group was asked to respond to an Audit Scotland report which called for “urgent action” to improve the state of the country’s roads.
The RMSAG reports states spending on local roads has declined by 26% in real terms across five years as a result of the prioritisation of education and care.
There has been a push for voluntary co-operation agreements among some council road departments and trunk road operators, such as in Ayrshire and Tayside, but the report states, “the clear conclusion of RMSAG is that, given the projected pressures, a model for roads maintenance in Scotland based on 33 roads authorities is likely to be unsustainable”.
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “We have sympathy for councils which are an impossible position by having to do more with shrinking budgets. But with the standard of some of Scotland’s roads so poor, not committing money to fix them now is saving up problems for the future.”
Luke Bosdet, spokesman for the AA, pointed out the public purse is already raking in tens of millions a year in parking charges and fines.
He said: “These councils have made massive hauls from traffic enforcement and now it’s time to spend these huge amounts of money on filling potholes.”
Among the councils planning to cut spending are East Lothian, which is considering a £5.2m drop in transport spending in 2018/19.
East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Inverclyde and North Lanarkshire also plan to trim roads spending.
In Ayrshire, an alliance has been set up between the local authorities to deal with road repairs but there have been complaints that some areas get more funding than others.
One pothole on a B-road near Kilmarnock was last week measured by local residents as being 16cm at its deepest, 45cm wide and 85cm long.
Scottish Labour’s rural economy spokesman Colin Smyth MSP said: “Local authorities have been forced to pass on SNP Government cuts by slashing the road maintenance budget by 21% since 2011, while staff morale is at rock bottom.
“The reality is this situation will only get worse.”
A survey by Confused.com, the insurance comparison website, found 154,310 potholes were reported to councils in Scotland in 2016, with motorists flagging up more than 420 every day.
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “The budget for maintenance of the network has increased by around £65 million to £433m for 2018/2019.
“The Audit Scotland report says 87% of trunk roads are in acceptable condition, despite several severe winters and significant financial constraints facing the Scottish Government.
“Since 2007 over £8.2 billion has been invested in our motorways and trunk road network.
“We are currently committed to the largest road investment programme Scotland has ever seen, including the £1.4bn Queensferry Crossing, the £3bn dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness, the £745m Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route project and the £439m M8/M73/M74 Improvements Project.”
Bob Pentland has racked up tens of thousands of miles across Scotland’s road network since joining the AA breakdown patrol 20 years ago and one thing has never changed – potholes.
“You never have a week without a pothole call-out but just now, at the height of winter, this is the worst period,” said the 47-year-old.
“The worst damage we see, as you would expect, is to the wheels and mainly punctures.
“It would be hard to put an exact number on it as not everyone will know it is a pothole that is the cause, it is only the really big potholes that you feel just before the tyre goes.
“Of course most cars only have one spare tyre and some don’t have them at all these days, just these repair kits.
“The other issue is obviously suspension and the coil spring, this can cause some serious damage.
“People are obviously frustrated that it’s happened to them and at the state of the roads, but all we can do is get them on their way as quickly as possible.”
Bob added: “The focus is usually on the impact on cars but we shouldn’t forget cyclists and motorcyclists, who actually feel these potholes a lot more than someone sitting in a car.”