Every year the news runs stories about the declining state of Britain's roads, and 2018 is proving no different. What has changed, however, is public focus. One survey by AA found that 72% of drivers think local roads are neglected in favour of motorways and other major roads. This could present an opportunity for local authorities to take control. But with council funding falling, what can realistically be done?
The most immediate and obvious answer is to try and raise funds specifically for road maintenance. The preferred solution of the LGA (Local Government Association) is to put 2p per litre of fuel duty toward fixing the road network.
Whether it’s funding that comes from ring-fenced fuel duty or even a fresh increase is not a problem to me. However, as the survey I mentioned shows, the public might worry that this money could be diverted to other projects, leaving local roads neglected once more.
For me, the key is for local authorities to turn this discontent to their advantage. Publicising the link between falling funding and the worsening state of our roads will remind constituents of the need for greater support – and potentially have an immediate financial impact too.
The litigation culture of suing councils for pothole damage has become seriously expensive. In Hampshire, for example, over £1m was paid out for pothole damages between 2013 and 2017. Motorists might think twice about demanding compensation if they understood the long-term impact it had.
Personally, I’d go even further and draw a direct line between issues like potholes and people not paying their council tax. The causality is clear: unpaid council tax reduces dwindling council budgets even further, making it harder to act on damaged roads. The public should be aware of that.
Such awareness campaigns can even turn the tide of public opinion when it comes to actively enforcing unpaid debt. The millions of pounds worth of unpaid business rates and council tax equate to thousands of repaired potholes and councils cannot afford to ignore this. It’s time for action.
I don’t necessarily feel that it has to be all about claiming cash though. This opportunity opens up avenues for creative collaboration that can win council constituents’ over in more ways than one – perhaps by addressing the popular concerns about plastic pollution and littering (a problem I've previously talked about) at the same time.
There is a company in Scotland called MacRebur who've found a way to use recycled plastics instead of oil to bind the road surface. It not only fixes potholes, but helps prevent them reappearing next winter. It's innovative, forward thinking and ticks several boxes at once. If councils can drum up the public support, and funding, for such an approach, I can’t see a downside.
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