London’s highways continue to suffer from chronic underinvestment, according to the fourth annual “State of the City” report from the London Technical Advisers Group (LoTAG). The cost of the capital’s road maintenance backlog has now reached more than £1 billion.
London boroughs look after the capital’s highways alongside TfL but there is a serious shortfall in funding for repairs and maintenance which has increased over several years. This has been exacerbated by the huge fiscal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on boroughs’ budgets, boroughs faced £2.2bn in additional spending and lost income last year. Furthermore, delays caused by the beginning of the pandemic, which affected supply chains, caused materials shortages and required new safe working practices.
Outside London, all English authorities receive an annual government settlement to look after roads and the local street scene. In 2021/2022 they will receive £1.385 billion for highway maintenance. In contrast, London local authorities receive no funds from the government.
Keeping London’s highways in good condition is no small undertaking, 7% of London’s total surface area is road. In addition to this, boroughs are responsible for local pavements, carriageways, street lights, trees, and structures such as tunnels, bridges and signs.
London has 17,000 km of carriageways covering 111km², the equivalent size to Jersey. The capital also looks after 4,300 structures, 27,000 km of footways, and more than 720,000 street trees which produce over 80,000 tonnes of oxygen per year.
As London pursues a swift and inclusive recovery from the pandemic, roads are a vital transport cornerstone. Boroughs are responsible for 95% of London’s road network and are determined to ensure it is fit for purpose, especially for low emissions travel such as walking, running and cycling. People are more likely to use greener active travel options if roads, lanes and pavements are properly maintained, as pedestrians and cyclists are more exposed to the road environment.
Boroughs are calling for more long-term support and investment to ensure Londoners and visitors alike can navigate the city’s roads in a safe, enjoyable and efficient way. Specifically, making national funding schemes available to London boroughs would help to address the capital’s massive maintenance backlog. For example, each year Londoners pay around £500 million a year in national Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) but this is spent in the rest of the country rather than being invested in London’s roads.
Mayor Philip Glanville, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said:
“London’s highways and roads are a hugely important part of our transport network, providing people with the means to get around the city. During the pandemic, we have seen more Londoners embracing walking and cycling, relying on local roads and cycle lanes. Unfortunately, they are now facing potholes and uneven road surfaces which presents a real challenge for newer cyclists.
“It is alarming that London faces a staggering highway maintenance backlog costing more than £1 billion, which only seems to grow each year due to chronic lack of funding for London boroughs. The cost of the pandemic has weighed heavily on borough budgets and without more support and investment, the repairs and maintenance funding shortfall will only continue, risking a decline in road safety and quality year on year. All road users, including car owners, taxi drivers and businesses share these concerns.
“Good roads have an important role to play in tackling the climate emergency. If we do not provide safe, pleasant and efficient ways to walk and cycle in our cities, we will miss vital opportunities to reduce transport pollution.
“Londoners are looking to boroughs and central government for a long-term, sustainable solution to the highways maintenance funding shortfall. Beginning with the return of national Vehicle Excise Duty to London would be a helpful move, especially as many car owners in London think this funding is still available to maintain our roads.”
As people continue to rely on the capital’s highways to complete their journeys, boroughs will continue to work tirelessly to prioritise essential and urgent repairs in support of London’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.