It has been estimated that the total value of the carriageway asset is approx £1bn. This does not include footways, drainage, streetlighting, traffic signals, etc. Even if we do not add or change the highways we need to maintain it. And this costs money – lots of it.
A well constructed and maintained road should last about 20 years (although utility works can reduce this lifetime down to 12 or even 6 years). To keep our highway assets in good condition we need to reconstruct 5% of the network each year, and also have a comprehensive programme of preventative treatments (surface dressing etc) to get the most out of each road.
Unfortunately, in Surrey, this has not been done for years – at least a decade. Our highway assets have been degraded significantly. Despite this Surrey’s Operation Horizon was planning to resurface only 10% of the network over 5 years rather than the 25% needed over five years to keep still and 50% over five years to begin to get the highways back up to standard. Surrey highway staff are now in a place where they must manage the deterioration of the network with intelligently prioritised works.
Surrey is not the only county in England to face this problem but Surrey has been hit harder than most. This for two reasons: first, the national government, over the years, has taken Surrey’s tax base. Surrey used to raise its own business rates – these taxes now go straight to Westminster. This change was big for Surrey because Surrey was able to raised significant amounts of business rates (Surrey has a bigger economy than several EU states). Also since the beginning of the recession grants to Surrey from the national government have been reduced significantly – over 40%. These two acts alone have impoverished the county. Alongside this the national government has mandated that certain policy areas must be protected. Surrey is not allowed to chose how it spends its money. According to the national government spending on social welfare and education must come first. This squeezes the spending on our highways to vanishing point. By cutting our spending on welfare by just 1% we could increase our spending on road maintenance by 300%. So supply of money for road maintenance is reduced to a very low level.
The second reason that Surrey is hit harder than most is that the national government disburses funds to each county for highways maintenance in proportion to the length of each county’s highway. Surrey might not have the length of highway that other counties have but Surrey has far more traffic than most counties. The amount the Surrey receives from the national government for highway maintenance is amongst the lowest in the country in relation to its needs.
In the 2014/15 financial year the flood / winter damage repair programme has boosted the capital resurfacing programme significantly, and will result in twice the investment than was originally planned for this financial year under Operation Horizon. If Surrey could keep up this enhanced level of investment Surrey could keep up with the deterioration of our carriageways. However this does not include the other aspects of maintaining the highway – streetlights and drainage.
The figures above are all very broad brush. When Surrey completes its asset management plan it should be able to provide some fairly good figures, allowing for deterioration in between condition surveys.