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Levelling Up: missing a trick?

Earlier this month, the Government published its Levelling Up the United Kingdom White Paper to a pretty muted response all round. It’s a hefty document with the first half of its 300 pages taken up with a sort of history-geography-economics lesson about geographical disparities and policy.

If you can make it past page 156, the importance of local transport connectivity is recognised as one of the main drivers for boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards. And there’s a recognition that local transport will mean more than just trains and buses; taxis and shuttle-type services will be important in many areas.

Given that the white paper acknowledges the importance of the UK’s roads to levelling up, it’s a bit disappointing to read that there will be no boost to road maintenance funds. In fact, according to the County Council’s Network (CNN), part of the Local Government Association, the Government’s Spending Review revealed that county and rural councils will be getting £480m less than they did two years ago in the next financial year. This is equivalent to 11.5 million less potholes fixed, according to CNN. (Shameless plug: £480m would equate to a lot more fixed potholes than that if Thermal Road Repairs technology was used).

In contrast, more money is going to Mayoral Combined Authorities. While this is great news for cities and urban areas, it seems to overlook the fact that rural areas are often the poorest, desperately needing efficient, safe routes to work. Cars – whether owned, hired, or community – will still be the only way for many people to reach new ‘transport hubs’ where the various forms of public transport can be accessed.

There’s a big problem with cutting funding for road maintenance. It’s a well-established fact that the best way to get the longest lives out of roads, at the lowest whole-life cost is by carrying out low-scale interventions every few years. (There are lots of papers on it; one is referenced below). Think surface treatment such as chipseal, rather than waiting until the road is so bad that the ruined surface has to be scraped off, carted away and replaced.

If there isn’t enough funding to carry out these proactive programmes of preservation, local authorities are forced to direct funds to the roads that most desperately need it. Meanwhile, roads that could have been pepped up with a surface treatment or pothole repair are left to deteriorate – and will cost more to renovate once they are in a bad enough state to warrant it.

Local authorities need a long, level horizon of funding for road maintenance so that they can plan and start to look for more efficient ways of doing things – rather than constantly firefighting. For instance, the London Borough of Richmondtold us that it was achieving 20 to 30% more pothole repairs with the same level of funding by switching from traditional repair methods to Thermal Road Repairs methods. And it hoped it could get even greater improvements, perhaps 40 or 50% more fixes for the same outlay. (See case study here)

For the people living by and using those ‘extra’ roads that got fixed in Richmond, that’s a huge bonus. The knock-on effect is that they feel happier with their council and with their councillors too.

At a human level, living in an area where the streets are well maintained and safe to use has a huge impact on how people feel about their neighbourhood, on wellbeing, pride in the community and all the things the Government wants to achieve with Levelling Up. Failing to recognise the wider value of road maintenance is surely missing a huge opportunity.

Thermal Road Repairs is a green technology company which supplies systems to improve the quality, cost and time efficiency of road repairs and paving – at a far lower environmental cost than traditional methods. We invest significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve our existing ones.

High output. Low emission. Permanent solution.


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