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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The cost of fixing all those potholes

When I was first elected to the Welsh Assembly in 1999 and became the Deputy Minister for Local Government the year afterwards, I recall the many meetings that took place around the local government settlement.

In particular there was a paper produced by the WLGA which set out precisely how much it would cost to fix all the problems in local government, which they treated as a bidding document.

The paper identified hundreds of millions of pounds that needed to be spent bringing our roads up to scratch, dealing with the backlog in housing repairs, sorting out council buildings, street lights, school buildings and many other issues. It was completely unaffordable, though I recall that the local government settlement for that first year was one of the most generous ever awarded by a Welsh Government.

The issue of course was not that the Welsh Government did not want to fund these needs but that they could not afford to do so in one year. What always puzzled me was why the WLGA and Minister did not sit down and work out an investment programme over the subsequent decade that would deal with many of these issues. These funding matters are always addressed short term to the detriment of the country's infrastructure.

That they did not sort out planned investment has been shown up by today's report that reveals that it would cost nearly £600m and take nine years to get Wales' roads into a reasonable condition. It could almost be the same paper I saw 17 years ago.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) Annual Local Authority Maintenance (ALARM) survey, said the estimated one-time cost to get Wales' roads into a decent state would be £591.5m, an average of just under £26.9m per council.

This compares to £12.06bn for England and Wales. AIA's survey said the average time before a road was resurfaced in Wales was 63 years, compared to 55 years in England.

No doubt there are similar demands for all the other infrastructure that councils are responsible for, underlining why they cannot just concentrate on roads at the expense of everything else.

In fact Councils have to perform a juggling act every year in allocating scarce capital resources into planned maintenance and day to day repairs, meaning that their available resources are stretched very thinly.

Isn't it time for the Welsh Government to pick up the annual WLGA bidding document for capital resources and start to look at it long term? They need to plan an increased investment in this infrastructure over the next ten or twenty years so as to eliminate much of this backlog altogether across the whole range of council responsibilities.
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