Cash cuts and the cold snap put roads in crisis
SCOTLAND is in danger of losing the battle to maintain its crumbling road network because of impending spending cuts after the worst winter in 30 years, motoring groups and politicians have warned.
• Picture: TSPL
The fears come as the poor state of the country's non-trunk roads was laid bare in a new report that showed nearly a fifth of carriageways in some areas were in urgent need of repairs.
Across Scotland, the state of 36 per cent of the routes was classed as either "urgent" or as deteriorating so fast they will need repaired within the next two or three years.
However, the latest detailed annual survey by council roads chiefs was completed before the big freeze, which it is estimated could have increased potholes by a third.
Experts also worry that major public spending cuts will further worsen the massive road repairs backlog, with an extra 45 million a year required just to stop the situation getting worse. Compensation claims from motorists for damage caused by potholes has also soared, putting further pressure on cash-strapped councils.
The Royal Automobile Club Foundation described the report as a "stark warning to Scotland's politicians from the people in the know".
Spokesman Philip Gomm said: "Any delay in action or cut in funding will only see the maintenance load increase, the work become costlier, more complex and more disruptive, and before we know it the winter will have arrived with all the new problems that brings."
The new report shows Scotland's worst local roads are in Argyll and Bute, where the proportion requiring immediate repair increased from 12.2 per cent to 17.3 per cent last year, The Scotsman can reveal.
The proportion of the council's smallest roads in this "red" category doubled to 25 per cent.
The next worst areas were Inverclyde, with 13 per cent of roads requiring repair, East Dunbartonshire, with 11.7 per cent, and East Renfrewshire with 11.1 per cent.
North Ayrshire had the highest proportion of A roads in the red zone – 14.3 per cent – up 3.6 per cent on the previous survey.
The Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (Scots), which carried out the survey, said: "There is growing concern that these vital and significant assets are not receiving the attention or funding required to maintain them in an optimal state of repair."
The new survey puts the detail on its outline report in May which showed 2,000 miles of Scottish roads – more than 7 per cent – were in a "really quite bad" condition and needed immediate repair. This was nearly 1 per cent more than in the previous survey.
However, a further 29 per cent of roads were in the "amber" category, whose condition was deteriorating and required investigation with a view to repairs within two to three years. The impact of the winter conditions will be included in next year's report.
Scots has warned last winter's big freeze would cause a "step change downwards" in road conditions unless repair spending increased.
Mr Gomm of the RAC Foundation added: "If councils want to save a lot of money in the long term, they need to spend a realistic amount now, otherwise there is a real danger a tipping point is reached where the backlog of work becomes so large it is essentially unmanageable.
"Scotland's road network should be treated as an essential utility, vital to the nation's prosperity, not an afterthought that comes at the bottom of the priority list.
"An Ipsos MORI survey for the RAC Foundation this year showed Scots are the least satisfied about road maintenance of anyone in the UK."
Labour transport spokesman Charlie Gordon said councils were already struggling to keep their roads and pavements in a passable condition.
The former leader of Glasgow City Council – Scotland's largest local roads authority – said: "Clearly, severe winters like the last one exacerbate the problem, but fundamentally, if the public want better local roads and pavements, with fewer potholes, local road departments need more resources for maintenance.
"Otherwise, we'll store up problems for the future – potholed roads which could be remedied by patching now will, if untreated, require more expensive resurfacing later.
"Similarly, roads which require resurfacing now will, if left untreated, require much more expensive reconstruction later."
Scots' report stated that road maintenance spending would have to be boosted by more than one third to 167m a year just to prevent roads from getting even worse.
To add to councils' headaches, officials have received hundreds of claims for potholes from people being injured and having their vehicles damaged.
Peter Rodger, head of driving standards for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "The severe winter we have just experienced can only have made the overall state of Scotland's roads worse.
"Reduction in funding is likely to lead to greater concentration on major routes, with local roads dropping even further down the spending priorities, risking an outcome where the battle to keep them all properly maintained is lost."
Cathy Peattie, the deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament's transport committee, which has examined the issue, said the problem appeared to be worst in rural areas.
She said: "The severe weather last winter has made the situation worse, but with council finances stretched because of the continuing freeze on council tax, there are limited funds available to address the deterioration in our roads."
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents councils, said they did not have enough money to make repairs fast enough.
Policy manager Linda Bruce said: "Councils are only too aware of the substantial roads maintenance difficulties facing them.
"Scots is to be praised for being prepared to tackle this head on in its open assessment of the scale of the problem, especially at a time where financial constraints make it inconceivable for the necessary work to be done within the timescales all would ideally want.
"Having said that, councils continue to commit as much resource as is possible to roads maintenance."
Duncan MacIntyre, Argyll and Bute Council's transport spokesman, said it had significantly increased spending on its 1,500 miles of roads for several years.
This had risen by more than 1m to 6.4m this year, although it remained nearly 1m below what was required to stop conditions getting worse, while the council's total maintenance backlog was 135m.
He said: "The council is acutely aware that road deterioration is likely to increase the risk of weight restrictions, may act as a detriment to trade and other inward investment and increases the future scale and cost of road reconstruction."
Inverclyde Council has announced a total of 600,000 more for roads, while North Ayrshire Council is allocating an extra 1m.
The Scottish Government said it had given councils extra cash to deal with the additional winter damage.
A spokesman said: "Scotland experienced some of the worst weather conditions in decades this winter.
"On potholes, we gave councils an extra 5m on top of the almost 12 billion in funding for local authorities this year.
"The settlement also matches our commitment to ensure local government continues to receive an increasing share of the Scottish budget to enable councils to meet priorities, such as maintaining roads."
Motorways and trunk roads, which were not part of the Scots survey, have been found to be in a far better condition than other roads in previous checks.
Despite all the hard work, potholes persist on our roads
DESPITE potholes being as old as roads, no-one has yet cracked the perfect solution for repairing them.
Many local authorities, which are responsible for all but trunk roads, still follow tried and tested methods which are seen as working well but can be labour intensive and costly.
A new breed of companies is now trying to persuade them to switch to novel methods to cut down on time and expense - but the jury appears to be still out over whether these will provide the answer that increasingly cash-strapped councils are seeking. Part of the problem is that no two roads are quite the same, since much of the network of modern carriageways across Scotland has been created from roads formed over hundreds of years using a range of materials.
Bill Barker, secretary of the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, said: "No-one has found the perfect system and new things keep coming on the market.
"The repair required depends both on how the road was made and what caused the pothole."
• Scots authorities face 50,000 fines for failing to improve road repairs
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North