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Trench warfare leaves roads crumbling

PUBLISHED: 14:07 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 13:06 05 October 2010

DRIVERS face an average of 12,500 holes a year dug up in roads in every local authority area in the country. The trenches are causing permanent damage, knocking as much as a third off the life expectancy of Britain's highways, a survey has found

By Mike Brooke

DRIVERS are facing an average of 12,500 holes a year dug up in roads in every local authority area in the country.

The trenches are causing permanent damage, knocking as much as a third off the 'life expectancy' of Britain's highways, a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance has found.

Even making utility companies such as gas, electricity and water apply for Town Hall permits before they can churn up roads won't soften the blow on council taxpayers, it warns.

Constantly digging up the streets to lay pipes and cable ducts has led to an 11-yrear backlog of permanent repairs, the annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey has found.

"A 30 per cent reduction in road life is a conservative estimate compared to studies in America," says the Asphalt industry's chairman Jim Crick.

"Roads are our biggest single asset, but it's a huge challenge when they're under permanent assault."

Crick is not convinced the long-awaited Traffic Management Permit scheme will make much difference when it comes in on April 1.

That's the date set when Town Halls have the powers to introduce permit schemes forcing utility companies to 'ask first' before digging up a road.

"Our road network is already crumbling," Crick adds. "The damage caused is storing up problems for the future.

"Premature resurfacing or reconstruction of carriageways is an unnecessary expense."

The average 12,500 holes dug in each authority's roads equals two million trenches across England and Wales a year. That's one for every 200 yards, the survey shows.

But it is drivers who really get a raw deal, the motoring organisation RAC Foundation points out.

Its acting director Sheila Rainger says: "Motorists pay the price with expensive and frustrating delays.

"Having to dodge so many holes just to go about their business adds to congestion and damages the environment.

"Local authorities should be able to provide a properly-maintained, safe road surface, not have to 'make good' the damage caused by these huge numbers of uncontrolled road openings."

Such 'utility openings' as they are known, means premature maintenance is needed to road surfaces, which reduces the 'life span' of the highway, the cost of which has to be met from already-stretched council budgets.

Local authorities are already facing a £1 billion shortfall in highway budgets, with an estimated backlog of 11 years, the survey reveals.

London is particularly badly hit by roadworks with mammoth renewal of both water and gas mains. Thames Water is running a 15 to 20-year programme which began at Bethnal Green in 2002 to renew the capital's Victorian mains network.

mike.brooke@archant.co.uk

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