Scotland's £2 billion pothole repair bill

Over a third of nation's roads unacceptably poor

by Mark Appleton   February 17, 2011  

Potholes in Glasgow's Southside.JPG

To anyone who cycles in Scotland it will come as no surprise to learn that, officially, over a third of the country’s roads are in sub-standard condition.

What might come as more of a shock, however, is the news that it would cost a staggering £2.25 billion to put them right – and that’s before the severe weather that took a heavy toll on road surfaces late last year.

Audit Scotland – the body charged with ensuring public money in Scotland is used properly – produced the figures in a report which calls for a major rethink of how Scotland’s road network is managed and maintained.

The organisation said: "Despite high levels of overall spending on public services, the condition of Scotland’s roads worsened over the past six years. In 2010, only 63% of roads were in an acceptable condition."

The cost of repairing the backlog now stands at £1 billion more than it did in 2004 and Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, added:

“Members of the public are increasingly dissatisfied with the condition of our roads. The pattern of spending and scale of backlog means that the value of these public assets is not being sustained.

"But by deferring essential expenditure on infrastructure, public bodies are storing up problems for the future and passing a greater burden onto generations to come.”

In response, Transport Scotland told road.cc

"We will fully consider the findings of the report which clearly highlights the challenges for both local authorities and the Scottish Government in maintaining road networks being used by increasing levels of traffic.”

"Maintaining the condition of our trunk road and motorway network is vital to the economy of Scotland and we will continue to carry out maintenance work on our trunk roads and motorways to ensure they are safe, despite the £1.3bn budget cut from Westminster.”

Glasgow City Council, meanwhile, told road.cc that they have recently tripled the budget for road maintenance from £4m to £12m. But even that sum appears to be hopelessly inadequate given the parlous state of the city’s road network, an alarming proportion of which represents a genuine danger to cyclists.

The council says that the context in which road maintenance is carried out includes 20,000 utility openings (gas, electricity etc) made in the city every year – which they say are often subject to a very poor quality of repair.

“Many of our roads have been developed from Victorian times and were never designed to accommodate vehicles of the size or weight we now see – or, for that matter, the sheer volume of traffic on today’s roads,” a spokesman told us. He also said there had been a lack of investment in roads on a national level over decades.

The spokesman continued: “After enduring three consecutive harsh winters - the latest the worst in 100 years - there has been a marked deterioration in the condition of the city’s road network and an explosion in the number of new potholes developing.

"The extremely low temperatures, snow, ice and rapid freeze/thaw cycles experienced over a prolonged period throughout December and early January have led to a more rapid deterioration than would normally be expected.

"A comparison of the number of potholes being reported annually demonstrates that we are dealing with 73% more new potholes than we were in 2008/09."

As an indication of the deteriorating situation in the city, the number of potholes reported January to January in recent years isas follows:-

2008 – 2009: 14,769
2009 – 2010: 19,011
2010 – 2011: 25,560.

The spokesman continued: “In addition, we are increasingly finding that many of these reports are not a simple, single pothole but a whole series of potholes or a larger damaged area which requires to be surfaced.

“Clearly, this is extremely challenging. However, additional investment made in the network (£12m in the current financial year) had helped, prior to the winter."

Glasgow City Council says it is difficult for them to make long term plans for road maintenance as they currently receive only a one-year budget from the Scottish Government and therefore cannot predict future levels of funding.

So while the Scottish Government appears to be implicating Westminster in the shambolic state of Scotland's roads, the country's largest local authority says it cannot plan road maintenance for the longer term due to Holyrood's inability to offer guarantees about future funding.

The advice for cyclists in urban areas of Scotland in particular, therefore, appears to be: don't expect an overall improvement in the state of the roads any time soon, continue to watch very carefully where you are going and pray that a pothole-swerving motorist doesn't wipe you out.
 

8 user comments

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Any bets on a fourth consective harsh winter next year? And a fifth? And a sixth?!

posted by don_don [149 posts]
17th February 2011 - 13:30

2 Likes

I've said it before here but the approach we use to maintaining roads in the UK means we spend more than we need to, suffer more traffic delays and have far worse roads than is necessary. The UK's method of accepting the lowest cost tenders for road repairs and upgrades means that road surfaces are fixed on the cheap and fail rather more quickly. Overall we probably spend twice as much as we need to to half the benefit. If we spent more first time round it'd cost considerably less overall as roads would last up to 10 years rather than just 2-3.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
17th February 2011 - 14:10

3 Likes

OldRidgeback wrote:
I've said it before here but the approach we use to maintaining roads in the UK means we spend more than we need to, suffer more traffic delays and have far worse roads than is necessary. The UK's method of accepting the lowest cost tenders for road repairs and upgrades means that road surfaces are fixed on the cheap and fail rather more quickly. Overall we probably spend twice as much as we need to to half the benefit. If we spent more first time round it'd cost considerably less overall as roads would last up to 10 years rather than just 2-3.

Agreed, I have seen resurfaced roads degrading/potholing within 2yrs Often the problems which have conributed to the poholes, such as run off of rainwater from agricultural land and blocked culverts leading to standing water are left to cause the same problems again.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [229 posts]
17th February 2011 - 15:35

2 Likes

+1
There is a county lane/ back road between Gateshead and Sunderland that was repaired 2 weeks ago.
the edges of the repairs are already peeling and small potholes are already back! Surprise
Extremely poor value for money! Angry

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [129 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:27

1 Like

Bath is supposedly top of the pothole repair charts, there's a nasty one on my commute in wide and deep opened up a couple of weeks ago after a spell of heavy rain. Council "repaired" it within days but their repair system seems to use rectangular forme in pre set sizes the one for this particular hole is smaller than the pothole itself so while the centre of the pothole is filled that repair has created a number of mini potholes around the edges, narrow,deep and potential wheel grabbers - I give the main repair itself a few months tops. And shoddy workmanship like this isn't rare you'd almost think that whoever had the road repair contract had a vested interest in their repairs not lasting too long, but of course that would never happen.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4160 posts]
17th February 2011 - 16:54

2 Likes

This is so true, I'm thinking about getting a full suspension bike for cycling to work this year it's so bad.

We're bidding for 2017 TDF too, don't make me laugh, the amount of retirements would be so high.

Bring on the commonwealth games time trials next year, can you get Carpel Tunnel syndrome from bike vibration, nevermind that cyclists would lose teeth with the state of the roads.

posted by mowatb [20 posts]
17th February 2011 - 19:05

2 Likes

According to scotland.gov.uk, "There were 55,089 kilometres of public road in Scotland at 1 April 2007." Assuming that figure is accurate, and not the result of a work experience kid at Transport Scotland being given an April Fools Day assignment, are they seriously saying the average cost to fix all the potholes in a kilometer of road is 40,843 pounds? Surely you could completely resurface the entire network for 2.25 billion. Or, say, put a Scottish man on the moon (but maybe not enough to pay for a return trip, so my vote would be for Duncan Bannatyne.)

I'm seriously thinking of emigrating from this pissy little island, before the roads deteriorate to the point where it is impossible to reach the nearest ferry port without your front wheel disappearing down a bottomless pothole.

posted by handlebarcam [533 posts]
17th February 2011 - 21:21

2 Likes

Interesting point HC, (even if we did get distracted by the Dragon's Den footage). We put this issue to Audit Scotland who said: "The estimate for how much it would cost to fix all road defects in Scotland, now matter how slight, is £2.25 billion.

This £2.25 cost equates to £40,000 per kilometre. (The calculation is based on Scotland’s 56,000 km road network). Note the word equates. We are not saying each kilometre needs to be fixed.

Of this £2.25 billion figure, £713 million is for trunk roads, maintained by Transport Scotland. (This comprises £275 million for structural road maintenance, £372 million for bridges and £66 million to repair individual defects.)

The remaining £1.54 billion is for local roads, maintained by local authorities. (However this figure is an underestimate as it uses 2008 road condition data and does not include the cost of removing all defects in bridges, lighting and footways. An updated figure is due next month.)

Across Scotland, 63% of Scotland’s roads are classed as in an ‘acceptable’ condition. So, as you say, over a third need repair.

These figures come from surveys of road condition carried out for SCOTS ( more details about SCOTS are available at http://www.scotsnet.org.uk/ ) and Transport Scotland."

So basically nobody really knows the true figure, but it IS astronomical, partly due to poor planning/lack of efficiency and partly due to a tendency by Scottish councils to punt problems into the long grass for future incumbents to deal with.

More info on an Audit Scotland podcast here: http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/docs/central/2010/nr_110216_road_mainte...

posted by Mark Appleton [554 posts]
18th February 2011 - 17:18

2 Likes