Rural Motorists In For A Bumpy Ride As Eight In Ten Councils Experience Loss In Funding

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Research conducted by RAC among councils and their own patrols has revealed widespread concern about the state of the road network, particularly in rural areas, as cuts to council budgets are increasingly hitting home.

· 80% of councils(1) experienced a real term loss in road funding in the past 12 months
· 89% of RAC Patrols(2) believe that current road conditions show the effects of underinvestment in road repairs
· However, 80% of councils are confident that they are well prepared to deal with another harsh winter

Research conducted by RAC among councils and their own patrols has revealed widespread concern about the state of the road network, particularly in rural areas, as cuts to council budgets are increasingly hitting home.

Council budgets stretched
The survey of 20 UK councils reveals that a year on from the Comprehensive Spending Review, 80% have experienced a real term reduction in funding to their road maintenance budgets – with 55% of councils seeing an outright reduction in funding. A further 25% reported that funding had stayed at the same level, meaning a loss in real terms due to inflation in materials and labour costs required for road maintenance.

Even with the budgetary constraints, more councils (50%) reported a focus on permanent long-term fixes than was the case six months ago (40%). However, 20% reported that they’re prioritising short-term fixes for safety reasons. Looking ahead to this winter, 80% reported that they are well prepared for another winter of extreme weather and 50% mentioned their well stocked salt and grit supplies.

A spokesperson for one council said: “The reduction in capital spend has reduced the ability of the county council to continue with the on-going improvement in roads condition. However by carefully managing the treatments and better targeting of resources we anticipate being able to at least hold the roads condition.

“Initially the focus [of road repairs] had to be on short term solutions to ensure the roads remained safe. As the immediate problems of potholes has reduced the emphasis has changed to more long term solutions.”

View from the road
The view from the road however is less positive as the constraints on councils are being felt by road users. Research among RAC Patrols found that 89% feel that current road conditions show the effects of underinvestment in road repairs. Three quarters of patrols think that the condition of rural roads is poor or very poor, with just 2% saying that they are in good condition. In addition, two-thirds of RAC patrols think that suburban roads are in poor condition.

The worsening condition of rural roads reflects the difference in road maintenance compared with urban areas, as one RAC patrol commented:

“Large potholes on rural roads remain whilst urban roads with slight wear are being seen to first. I see a portion of an urban road outlined to be repaired and think I know of much worse road conditions that need attention sooner.”

Patrols are also concerned at the quality of road repairs as 71% said that the quality of short term road fixes since last winter has been inadequate compared with 45% who said the same of long term road fixes.

Motorists are equally concerned about our roads - 92% of those questioned as part of RAC’s Report on Motoring said that they feel the condition of local roads is getting noticeably worse compared with 78% who feel similarly about main roads.

John Franklin, RAC spokesman, said:
“While councils are doing the best they can with the resources available, the fact is that reduced budgets can only stretch so far and councils are being forced to make very difficult decisions. Our patrols are reporting rural roads in poor and even dangerous condition and damage to their vehicles caused by potholes. Roads are an essential lifeline to people, particularly in rural areas, and need to be maintained to a decent standard.

“With squeezed household finances, and the cost of living rising, people can scarcely afford to repair damage to their vehicles. The government must seriously consider the consequences of reduced funding allocations to road maintenance.”

Additional Findings
· 84% of patrols said their journey times have been directly affected by poor road conditions
· Over half (52%) of patrols say that some roads have not been easily accessible.
· An average of 4 weeks of road repair time was lost by councils due to adverse weather conditions in the last 12 months.

¹ In depth research of a geographical spread of 20 councils in England, Wales and Scotland (10 rural and 10 urban) undertaken in August and September 2011 by Wriglesworth Research on behalf of RAC. The 20 councils represent 10% of the 206 councils nationwide
² Based on a survey of 309 RAC patrols conducted in September
3 The 2011 RAC Report on Motoring surveyed 1,002 motorists (i.e. those who hold a current driving licence and drive at least once a month). The research was conducted in February and March 2011, with the questionnaire taking around 20 minutes to complete.

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