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Road Maintenance

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the funding they provide to Highways England and local authorities to ensure that roads are maintained in a safe condition.

My Lords, over £12 billion has been provided to Highways England and local authorities to maintain and renew the road network in England outside London in the six years up to 2020-21. This is a significant increase on previous years. It is of course for each authority to assess which of its roads need repair, based on local knowledge and circumstances, but the Government believe that the sums allocated are ensuring that roads are maintained safely.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but many organisations will think that even that increase is nothing like enough. The RAC reckons that potholes cost drivers £100 million a year in damage to their cars. Cycling UK notes that in 2016, 64 cyclists were killed or seriously injured because of potholes. I nearly joined that rank when I fell into a pothole, which was under water, outside your Lordships’ House. The repair consisted of a white line painted round the pothole—and it is still there, three months later. On 13 June the Government issued a British road safety statement, which included measures to improve the safety and reduce the deaths of vulnerable road users such as cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists. Will the Government put that into practice, with more commitment? One idea would be to put an extra 3p per litre on the price of petrol, ring-fenced for potholes on local roads.

My Lords, we must certainly do all we can to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads. According to Cycling UK, over half of people say that they would cycle more if they were not so worried about the state of our roads. Potholes and poorly maintained roads are a menace for all road users—including noble Lords—which is why we are taking action to improve the condition of the local road network. In particular, the Department for Transport has allocated £296 million to the Pothole Action Fund, on top of existing funding. Noble Lords will know that fuel duty is most definitely a matter for the Chancellor, but I will certainly pass on the noble Lord’s suggestion.

Potholes or not, how can pedestrians on the pavements alongside these roads maintain themselves in a safe condition when cyclists refuse to equip their machine with a bell and curse those, like me, who politely ask them to mend their ways? Could they possibly be in league with those who will stop at absolutely nothing to reduce the size of this House?

My Lords, we absolutely want to improve the safety of cyclists and all other road users, including pedestrians. Obviously, we are in favour of cycling. It improves people’s health, cuts congestion and is good for the environment. Among employers, it has been associated with fewer sick days and improved productivity. We are keen to support cyclists, as I said. Last year, we published our cycling and walking investment strategy, which included £1.2 billion of funding to encourage more people to travel by foot or by bike—but I will certainly see whether there is anything we can do to ensure that cyclists put a bell on their bicycle.

My Lords, Local Government Association analysis shows that, over a five-year period, the Government plan to spend £1.1 million per mile on the strategic road network but to provide local authorities with just £21,000 per mile for local roads. Of course, local roads make up 98% of the road network and bear the brunt of congestion, which is made worse by pothole problems and the lack of money to invest in modern road networks. There is a serious knock-on effect on emissions. Does the Minister accept that the Government need to redress the balance on funding?

My Lords, local road maintenance funding is rising, but I accept that we need to readdress the balance. It is right to concentrate spending on where it is needed most. While the strategic road network includes only 2% of all roads by length, it carries one-third of traffic. However, we know that other important roads have long gone underfunded, and that is why we are introducing a major road network from 2020 and will provide a share of the national roads fund to invest in bypasses, road widening and other road improvements.

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the fact that utility companies seem to dig up our roads, and three months later another utility company digs the same hole? Would it not be a good idea to get some form of licensing, with the authorities giving permission for these holes to be dug, and for the utility companies to contact other utility companies to make sure that there is no common ground there?

I certainly agree with the noble Lord on that. We have introduced the lane rental scheme, which has encouraged utilities to work together at weekends and in the evening to reduce congestion and the inevitable annoyance to motorists. We saw disruption to drivers cut by half in Kent and London, where we ran a pilot, and we are looking to extend that across the country. On licences and permits, we absolutely encourage local authorities to use permit schemes for works on the roads, which will help with planning. They will also ensure that utilities work together. Around 65% of local authorities use permit schemes now, and we encourage others to join.

My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government believe in value for money? If the answer is yes, will she explain how patch and mend delivers value for money on a whole-life basis? If the answer is no, does she accept that Her Majesty’s Government are storing up a massive bill as roads self-destruct under the present policy?

My Lords, I can certainly confirm that this Government believe in value for money. We are spending a record £23 billion on the enhancement, renewal and maintenance of our roads up and down the country, and will continue to invest in that to provide better journeys for motorists and to cut congestion. We have seen improvements and that our investment is making a difference. A, B and C roads combined have seen a gradual improvement, with fewer roads being considered for maintenance.

My Lords, in her reply to my noble friend Lord Lexden, the Minister seemed to imply that she could do nothing about bells on bicycles. If the law does not require the fitting of bells on bicycles, does the Minister agree that it would be a very good idea, and will she consider whether the law should be amended?

My Lords, as I said, we have introduced cycling and walking investment strategies. We are also looking at cycling safety and I will certainly feed in that suggestion.

With respect to bells on bicycles, perhaps the Minister would like to go back to 1998, because I seem to remember that, when I was a very junior Minister in charge of road safety, I found myself on the front page of every tabloid newspaper for saying, when answering a question, that all new bicycles should have a bell.

My Lords, I do all I can to avoid being on the front page of tabloid newspapers, which is why I am not committing to it now—but, as I say, I will certainly take that back.