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Potholes and Road Maintenance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:56 pm on 16th March 2010.

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Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Minister of State (Department for Transport) 10:56 pm, 16th March 2010

Far be it from me to defend myself; I was trying to read the speech which dealt with that, but I think I was intervened on, I think, six times. I will try to return now to the speech and deal with some of the points that the hon. Lady made.

One point that is worth touching on in the context of perceived unfairness in relation to the funding that the Department gives us, is that the Department has additionally provided private finance initiative funding of £3.96 billion, and PFI credits for highways maintenance and street lighting schemes. Cyclists and motorcyclists find those very useful. There are 25 sign projects with a value of £993 million. In addition, there are 10 projects in procurement, six street lighting schemes and four highways maintenance projects with a combined value of £2.35 billion-examples of the investment that this Government give to local authorities, not just Hertfordshire but others around the country.

One of the things that local highways engineers have been telling us a lot over the past few months is that the roads that have been worst affected by the winter weather have been those that were not in optimal condition in the first place. Where a proper treatment has been put down, which is effective in keeping water out of the road's substructure, the damage is far less.

There is another lesson to learn from asset management planning. Clearly, those who assume that they are perfect will not learn the lessons; those who have the humility to learn the lessons might. That lesson is this: considering the whole life of the asset, and planning over that horizon, delivers much better value for the taxpayer-and much better roads for the road user-than a purely reactive approach of repairing whatever happens to be worst.

Asset management planning will also help local authority engineers to make the case to their authority treasurers for the funding needed to deliver the service that the council wants it to deliver. For the first time, authorities will be able to put a value on their highways assets. That will be an advantage to authorities such as Hertfordshire. The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy plans to publish later this month rules that will set out how to value highways assets in the authority's accounts, which can in turn feed into the Government's aim for whole of Government accounting.

When authorities undertake that valuation, they will discover that their highways assets are far and away the most valuable asset that they own-as the hon. Lady acknowledged-generally valued at more than all their other assets put together. That fact alone should help to concentrate councils' collective minds on what resources they should devote to the public realm. One of the points that the hon. Lady raised, quoting someone else, was that sometimes politicians will choose to spend moneys on schools and hospitals, not roads. But I should make it clear that we do not want accountancy to drive the management of the highways assets; rather, it should be the other way round, with the accounting figures simply falling out as a by-product of good asset management.

The hon. Lady made a point about the utility companies paying a pothole tax for the damage that they might do. She will be aware that potholes can develop for a number of key reasons, including adverse weather, damage to or poor maintenance of roads, higher volumes of traffic and heavier vehicles than anticipated, and poor reinstatement after utility, highway authority or other works in the carriageway. In fact, the Government originally consulted in November 2009 on a revised edition of the code used by the utility companies, which is expected to be launched in April 2010 and focuses on formalising many of the practices already being undertaken. In particular, it looks to strengthen the requirements for edge treatment to ensure a better-performing joint. Utilities pay fees to authorities to inspect their works and ensure adherence to the required specification. Inspections can be made at various stages of the works up to the completion of the guarantee period, which may be two years or three years.

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).