London’s highways are suffering from chronic underinvestment, warns the third annual “State of the City” report from the London Technical Advisers Group (LoTAG) and London Councils. This year, the maintenance backlog has reached £1 billion.
The maintenance of London’s highways is no small undertaking, with the category of “highways” encompassing carriageways, footways, street lights, trees, and structures such as tunnels, bridges and signs.
Outside of London, all English authorities receive an annual governmental settlement to support highway maintenance. In 2017-18, they received £3.66 billion. In contrast, London local authorities, who own and manage 95% of London’s roads, received no funds from the government.
This is not because of a lack of need. London has 17,000 km of carriageways, which run the equivalent of the distance from London to Melbourne. The capital also looks after 4,300 structures, 26,000 km of footways, and more than 720,000 street trees. Yet, at present, vehicle excise duties raised by London-registered vehicles, which amount to around £500 million, will almost all be spent on roads outside the capital.
Chronic underinvestment in its highways has meant that they face declining conditions and an ever-increasing maintenance backlog that is now estimated to be over £1 billion. In 2018/19 alone, London authorities spent £96.8 million on carriageways, £83.6 million on structures, £76.3 million on footways, and £67.3 million on lighting.
London boroughs are doing their best to make up this funding shortfall through forward-thinking and innovative programmes.
For example, London boroughs have reduced their highway energy usage by 31% from 2010/11 to 2018/19. The greatest decreases were seen in the London councils of Bexley, Redbridge, and Hammersmith and Fulham, which fell 62%, 59%, and 57%, respectively.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council made significant energy savings by replacing existing highway streets lights with LEDs. These were not only more energy efficient, but also reduced maintenance visits and repairs. These upgrades led to a £250,000 energy saving for the council.
Councillor Julian Bell, the Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said: “Londoners depend on highways to move in and around our city – be it by bicycle, bus, vehicle or foot. However, potential sources of funding for them are blocked off. These include the vehicle excise duty, which is paid by Londoners, but does not go to maintaining London’s highways and pavements. This lack of funding has spiralled into an alarming £1 billion highway maintenance backlog.
Local authorities have made the best of a difficult financial situation by turning to sustainable and cost-saving measures wherever possible. Though these impressive efforts should be commended, they are not a long-term solution to the funding gap. Until we receive the funding we need, the quality of London’s roads, bridges, tunnels, pavements and footpaths will remain at risk.”
The “State of the City” report can be read here: https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/sites/default/files/State%20of%20the%20City%202019%20-%20Summary%20Report%20Final%20version.pdf