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Resilient roads: no clear route forward

On 17 July 2023, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs published its Third National Adaptation Programme (NAP3). The report, which covers the next five-year period to 2028, is supposed to set out the actions that central and local governments need to take to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

For anyone involved in managing local road networks, the report makes disappointing reading. Local authorities manage 9% of England’s A roads and motorways which carry around one-third of all traffic, while local authority-managed B and C roads make up around 28% of all roads in England. These roads are vital to almost every aspect of life and are the lifeblood of the economy. Yet NAP3 has no concrete plans or strategy on how we should ensure they can function in the face of changing climate conditions.

Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change – such as the intensification of rainfall into fewer events – continues to cause huge problems for local authorities. Kent County Council was the latest authority to come under fire, along with its contractors, for its failure to meet its own key performance indicators (KPIs) on pothole repair. Weather conditions, quite rightly, were cited as a major challenge.

In response, one opportunist opposition politician was quoted in the local press as saying: “You can’t just keep blaming the weather. We always have weather!”. This statement must be quite infuriating for those in charge as it conveniently ignores the fact that, particularly when a large proportion of a road network is rural, huge downpours and flooding can have a disproportionate impact on potholes and the general road condition.

The lack of direction in NAP3 was particularly disappointing given the criticism that the Government received on its predecessor, NAP2, in a March 2023 report to Parliament by the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The CCC’s report says: “The second National Adaptation Programme has not adequately prepared the UK for climate change. Our assessment has found very limited evidence of the implementation of adaptation at the scale needed to fully prepare for climate risks facing the UK across cities, communities, infrastructure, economy and ecosystems.”

Considering road networks, the CCC’s assessment was that while there are credible policies and plans in place for the strategic road network, policies and plans for local road network are insufficient. In terms of delivery and implementation, both the strategic and local road networks were deemed to have made mixed progress. The CCC also notes that while local road networks are likely to face greater impacts from extreme weather, we don’t even have the information we need to start planning properly.

Perhaps the most galling part of the new NAP3 is the statement that “ongoing investment in the road network is essential to make existing and future infrastructure resilient to climate change impacts”, because there is no information about where the funding for such investment might come from. Instead, NAP3 promises more consultations, on a new ‘transport adaptation strategy’ and on a ‘framework for local authorities to implement extreme weather recommendations from recent incident reports’. The results from these consultations aren’t mooted until the end of 2024 – which in civil service speak usually means 2025.

We are already ten years on from the first National Adaptation Programme, and it feels like we are going nowhere fast. And with no direction, vision or investment, local authorities are being left to bear the brunt of costs and criticism.


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. It invests significantly in R&D, to create new technologies and to continuously improve existing ones.

Thermal Road Repairs: Decarbonising the asphalt repair industry.

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