Secret report: £260m needed to fix city’s roads

The bill for repairing cracked and ptholed roads across the city would run to �260m, according to a leaked council report. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The bill for repairing cracked and ptholed roads across the city would run to �260m, according to a leaked council report. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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REPAIRING cracked and potholed roads across the Capital will cost £260 million, according to a secret council report.

Figures seen by the Evening News reveal that more than 30 times the current £7m budget for carriageways and ­pavements is needed to bring surfaces up to scratch.

Evening News Comment: Roads repair figure will never be met

The bill – contained in a review of council roads and transport services commissioned by city bosses but never publicly published – is three times higher than any ­previously reported figure for sorting the roads.

The report is so secret that not even councillors have been given full access to its findings.

Opposition members said they had made repeated failed requests to see it over the past two years.

In a damning analysis of its performance, the council report details how ­mismanagement, lack of proper accounting and a ­failure to control costs have ­contributed to giving ­Edinburgh some the worst road ­surfaces of any Scottish city. Transport bosses today admitted that “demand for investment in roads maintenance will always exceed the funding available”.

City taxi drivers confirmed the report’s analysis, describing how the Capital’s crumbling carriageways forced them to run a gauntlet of potholes and ruts to avoid upsetting their customers.

And roads experts told the Evening News that drivers in Edinburgh face a winter of discontent, with cold and wet weather set to inflict further damage.

Conservative shadow transport spokeswoman, Councillor Joanna Mowat, said she had been left “staggered” by the £260m ­bottom line and demanded that the report be released to councillors and debated at the city’s transport committee.

She said: “The only surprise in this report is the amount – that Edinburgh’s roads and pavements are in need of repair is obvious to ­everyone who uses them.

“The figure of £260m is staggering and is a result of underinvestment for many years – the Conservative group has increased investment in roads and pavements as a standing item on its manifesto and it seems this will have to continue for the foreseeable future.

“This is a basic service that is poorly provided, which causes accidents to people and ­vehicles and is unacceptable. This should be a wake-up call to the administration and department because we need to achieve better results with our limited resources.”

City officials commissioned the report in 2012 after the roads and transport services department was reorganised, bringing all its functions under the Services for Communities umbrella.

The council’s roads business performance manager, Tony Lear, was given the job of carrying out the review.

The draft report seen by the Evening News is believed to have been completed in 2013, although council officials say the document has since gone through several edits because the review is ongoing.

However, key numbers within the report remain almost unchanged, supporting its damaging findings.

In 2012/13, the Road ­Condition Index, which grades roads throughout the country according to Scottish Government criteria, found that 31.09 per cent of the city’s 10.6 ­million square metres of carriageway “require either investigation or repairs” – just 0.51 per cent lower than the figure quoted in the report.

Based on typical resurfacing costs of between £22 and £70 per square metre, the total bill for repairing the city roads most in need of work is ­calculated as being between £80m and £260m.

The report sets out how £155m has been invested in the city’s roads between 2005 and 2014, but goes on to say: “Many travelling around the city might question whether Edinburgh’s roads look as if they have benefited from a £155m investment over the last eight years.” Cllr Mowat said councillors would be upset to learn they had been left in the dark and insisted she would call for urgent talks at the City Chambers.

She said: “It is shocking that this report has been seen by the Evening News when it has not been issued to councillors. 

“We were made aware of the commissioning of this report and have had one interim ­briefing. Despite repeated requests, no further briefing or reporting to committee has been forthcoming.

“The proper place for consideration of this is at a committee of the council – I will be ­writing to the convenor to ask that this be put on the agenda of the next transport and environment committee and issued to councillors.”

A council spokeswoman ­confirmed that transport convener Lesley Hinds, her deputy, Councillor Adam McVey and acting head of transport David Lyon, had been given regular updates on the review and its findings. Cllr Hinds said the council was investing as much as it could in roads, but admitted catching up with the backlog of necessary works was not a ­realistic expectation.

She said: “These figures, which date from the 2010-11 Road Condition Index, estimate the cost of bringing every road in the Capital up to perfect condition, something which, regrettably, is entirely unrealistic for any roads authority given very real budget constraints.

“That said, we are fully committed to doing whatever we can to improve the condition of ­Edinburgh’s roads and given the doubling of our roads and pavements budget in 2013/14, when an additional £12m was invested, we hope to see more ­favourable results in future condition indexes.

“We use these independent surveys to help us ensure our investment in road maintenance is prioritised correctly and we are constantly ­reviewing our approach to make sure it delivers the best possible results at the best value for money.

“The unavoidable truth for all local authorities, however, is that the demand for investment in roads maintenance will always exceed the funding available.”

She said the report would be continuously updated following its completing in 2013 “to make sure we are delivering the best possible outcomes for our employees and our customers”.

She added: “As part of our strong commitment to improving the transport service, for the last 18 months or so we have been carrying out a ­comprehensive, customer-focused internal review.

“This review will help ensure we offer an effective and ­efficient transport and roads service which delivers best value for the taxpayer.”

Cabbies hit by pothole crunch

TAXIS have been bearing the brunt of the Capital’s ropey roads, says Tony Kenmuir, boss at Central Taxis.

According to him, every time a cabbie takes his car for a service, new suspension parts are needed.

This means drivers are counting the costs of potholes and cracks – which also reflect badly on the city.

He said: “Poor, broken surfaces such as on Calder Road heading west towards Hermiston and potholes on the way from Corstorphine to the airport have been there so long without being repaired that we actually learn where they are and unconsciously drive a weaving route around them for a smoother journey wherever possible.

“Bringing tourists into town from the airport and acting as an ambassador to the city, it can be embarrassing for a taxi driver when we’re crashing through potholes and ruts as if we were off-roading.

“Apart from hitting a taxi driver hard in the pocket every year in repairs, the conditions of the roads just doesn’t reflect the stature or beauty of the city. When the council reviews taxi fares periodically the cost of replacement parts is taken into account so to a small extent the damage is passed on to the customers too. Am I right in estimating that £260m represents only two miles of tram line?”

ANALYSIS

By Paul Watters, Head of roads policy and public affairs for the AA

By I’m not surprised, sadly. The backlog of work is enormous: collectively across the UK it is estimated to be around £12 billion.

Hopefully the city council will have prioritised the work that they do, basing it on what’s called the ‘residual life’ of the carriageway. You can deal with that with a staged approach if you have long-term stable finance. That’s difficult in Edinburgh because of the financial commitments of the tram, but highway authorities have legal duties as well. Under the Highways Act (Scotland), they have duties to maintain the infra-structure, so they have to honour their legal obligation to keep the roads safe.

A road is like any other asset. You have to maintain it at the right moment before it slips into decay, but also getting the maximum efficiency of use before it reaches the end of its life.

The Scottish Government produces its own analysis with a green, amber or red traffic-light system for road condition. It’s a question of how much of the road is in red condition.

It’s always a juggling act. Invariably we do the roads too late, and some argue that it costs nine times more to rebuild them when they’ve broken up, because you’re spending time dealing with emergency potholes. Equally, you also don’t want a whole lot of road closures at one time.

The impact on businesses is bad because they know there are roadworks coming, and potentially in the build up to that, a lot of potholed roads.

We’re coming up to the winter, and that’s the time of year when roads show their true colours in terms of how sustainable they are. It’s luck of the draw if it’s cold or mild, but either way, last year showed in parts of the country that wet weather as much as cold weather can cause problems to our roads. Drivers will be particularly worried about the winter that’s coming.