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England’s road network consists of motorways, major ‘A’ roads, as well as local classified and unclassified roads. Highway authorities have a legal duty to maintain their respective sections of the network under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, as amended. Highways England, which was established in April 2015, maintain the Strategic Roads Network. All other road types are managed by 153 local highway authorities, which are responsible for maintaining, managing and, where necessary, improving their section of the network; there is extensive guidance on how they should do this. Central government has a core role in funding the provision of funding for local roads maintenance and renewals, as well as policy development and setting the legislative framework through which the local roads sector operates.

There are ongoing concerns about the general state of the road network, the backlog of repairs and the cost of bringing these defects up to standard. Industry reports suggest that around 18% of the local roads network is in poor condition and it would take 14 years, at a cost of £9.31 billion, to get local roads back into a reasonable steady state.

Local road maintenance expenditure can be classified as ‘capital’ or ‘revenue’ and are covered by a combination of local government own revenues and central government grants. Total local authority road maintenance expenditure was £3.3 billion in 2016/17 and has been trending down in recent years. While motorway and A road local road maintenance expenditure has increased, this has come at the expense of spending on minor roads. The squeeze on local authority budgets has meant that spending is being allocated to other core services at the expense of local roads maintenance.

Proposals have been put forth in recent years to change the way in which local roads are funded. The most notable of these is the proposal for a Major Road Network. Others believe more far-reaching reform is required in the form of a Local Roads Fund paid for by redirecting a share of the existing fuel duty to be reinvested in local road maintenance.

The Transport Select Committee launched an inquiry into governance and funding of the local roads network in England in August 2018. The Committee will take oral evidence for the inquiry toward the end of 2018, with the inquiry likely to be completed in early 2019.

This paper does not deal specifically with winter maintenance, which is covered separately in SN2874. Information on other roads-related issues can be found on the Roads Topical Page of the Parliament website.

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