By Carolyn Thomas

MS for North Wales

In these challenging financial times, it is essential we do not neglect the maintenance of our highways. It is a priority I fought for as Cabinet member for highways at Flintshire Council and continue to as a member of the Senedd representing North Wales, I am pleased that the New Cabinet Secretary for Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates agrees and welcome his return to Government.

In 2020, following a decade of cuts to public funding under Austerity, a County Surveyors survey estimated a backlog of deferred highway assets maintenance of more than £1.6bn. Carriageways £844m, footways £171m Structures (incl. bridges) £599m, Street Lighting £63m.

In addition to constant use and ageing our assets are under growing pressures from the effect of climate change. The heavy rainfall we are experiencing washes away road surfaces, creates potholes, sunken gullies and fills drains with debris that have to be constantly emptied to be effective. Landowners also need to maintain their ditches and culverts to prevent draining onto the highway under riparian law. The council’s role is to enforce but not maintain private ditches and land drains including those at the side of verges, they belong to the landowner on the other side of the hedge.

Floods over recent years have caused major infrastructure issues including collapsed bridges, landslides and subsidence with estimates of repair in the millions.

A steady investment is needed, allowing assets to deteriorate to the level where replacement is the only option risks incurring avoidable costs in the future and the potential for some assets to fail at short notice necessitating expensive reactive repair, closure and in extreme instances increased user risk.

In 2018 when I was still a Flintshire Councillor, I met with Ken Skates, along with Mark Drakeford on a visit to Mold, and they agreed Welsh Government would provide a grant of £60m over 3 years which helped. Last year, as it was coming to an end, I lobbied again, pushing for WG highway underspends to go to Councils for highways and £1m was made available to local authorities with a letter recommending it be used for highway maintenance but it was not ringfenced for highway spend by local authorities.

With important competing pressures for capital investment such as housing and education, it needs to be ringfenced again otherwise it will get swallowed up.

I was told when questioned in the Senedd that funding from the pause of building of new roads would be invested in active travel and maintenance of existing roads, but there has been a lack of funding from the UK Government to invest in new roads, and the European structural funding which was previously used by the Welsh Government has not been replaced, so there is none. We need to act this financial year before our roads deteriorate further.

Where to find funding this financial year with decreasing budgets and competing, increasing pressures is a problem but I have a solution. Under the last Minister for transport, Lee Waters, the Active Travel funding trebled, I have argued It is impossible to provide dedicated cycle routes on the majority of our highways in North Wales. Cyclists need to use the edge of roads, potholes, dropped gullies make them dangerous, and I am grateful the new Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates agrees some of this significant funding should be shared and used for highway and pavement maintenance.