Worrying trends on repairing rural roads

The dire state of the roads in Northumberland reflects a worrying national trend, with local authorities facing an average shortfall of £6.2million.

The ALARM 2013 report, by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, also estimates that each authority would have to fork out £69million as a one-time catch-up cost for the maintenance backlog.

More worryingly, there is mention of authorities considering allowing rural roads to become ‘green lanes’, and not repairing them.

Speaking to the Sunday Times recently, Richard Hayes, former highways maintenance manager at the county council and now president of the Institute of Highway Engineers, said: “The amount of money available is becoming so difficult that there may be a situation where some of the road network has to be abandoned to nature.”

However, the county council has said it has no plans to downgrade any roads.

And Northumberland was back in the spotlight again last week in a Times report focusing on ‘the areas of Britain hit hardest by the pothole plague’.

Coun Colin Horncastle, from the west of the county, was reported as saying, ‘highways engineers tell me it has now got to the point where some roads are dangerous and they are going to have to close them’.

At February’s full council meeting on the budget, finance boss Coun Andrew Tebbutt said he was confident more Tarmac would be laid next year than this. A rapid-response system for potholes was proving successful, with more than 34,000 filled.

A change in the way highway repairs are dealt with, moving from reactive to a planned approach, meant a change in both capital and revenue expenditure, but not a reduction in expenditure overall.

But the Tories abstained from the vote and have now pledged to increase investment in road maintenance by £30million over the next four years if elected in May.