Shropshire Council


What is our approach to highways maintenance?

We aim to balance a programme of maintenance to prevent roads deteriorating using surface dressing with a programme where we repair roads that are in a failed state already.

We undertake machine surveys of the entire network, calibrated to DfT standards so that they're comparable across the country, so we know the annual condition of every 10m stretch of the network and can track its rate of deterioration. We use this to identify those roads that are in need of surface dressing to repair roads before they deteriorate, and also those that are deteriorating at an accelerated rate. This helps to inform our programmes of work alongside other information, such as the number of potholes we've repaired in that area, insurance claims, whether it’s a bus route or cycle route etc.

The undertaking of preventative maintenance is often a cause of misunderstanding for residents who see us fixing roads which are in nowhere near as bad a condition as the roads they've raised concerns about. They're often incredulous at the decision we've taken, but with the data we have we're able to model deterioration over time and identify the optimum investment strategies to ensure that the roads are maintained in as good a condition as possible within the budgets we have.

How do preventative measures help to improve our roads?

Our preventative maintenance aims to restore the road surface, prolong its life and ensures that the road doesn't degrade prematurely. It’s a two-year process where smaller areas of structural failure are repaired with ‘deep patching’ of those areas. These are then allowed to settle over a period of months and the whole road is then surface dressed to ensure that minor cracks in the surface are sealed to prevent water getting in, and the resulting further deterioration that this causes. This approach is shown to significantly prolong the life of the road.

By investing in preventative measures as well as reactive measures the deterioration of the highway network is slowed. This often causes confusion for residents who see roads being treated which don't appear to be as bad as some other roads. However, these other roads have often deteriorated beyond the stage when this approach is an option and require far more costly treatment in order to fully repair them.

Why do potholes and other defects form?

From new a road deteriorates relatively slowly, and minor intervention such as sealing cracks, fixing small potholes or surface dressing can stop water ingress and keep the road in good condition for a significant period of time. This should be done every ten years. National budgets however mean that councils in England are able to undertake this activity on average every 68 years. This means there is insufficient funding to address all the roads that need repair in a timely manner.

As cracks appear, water gets trapped when it rains, and if they're not sealed before winter the water freezes and expands, which is when larger potholes start to appear. As these become more frequent across the surface the road is in need of resurfacing to bring it back up to a new-like state, however this can cost around seven times more than surface dressing, so we're able to resurface fewer roads each year within the funding.

If the road isn't resurfaced in a timely manner cracks go deeper into the structure of the road and begin to break up the foundations, which is where you see the surface of the road completely broken. When it gets to this stage it's often more difficult to repair potholes, as the very act of sawing the road to lay new material breaks away the edges of the cut, resulting in more potholes occurring around the edge of the repair and often resulting in the repair coming out.

We therefore aim to use less intrusive measures in these situations.

How do you decide which potholes to treat?

We have a duty to repair the road as and when we become aware of a specific risk to safety. Whilst there are a great many areas of the road that are in poor condition, these do not always reflect an immediate risk to safety.

We rely on our own regular inspections of the road - the frequency of which varies depending on the type of road - and on customers making us aware of them. This generates a visit by the team to assess whether the pothole does require an immediate response to maintain safety or whether the matter is able to wait until a more planned response can be undertaken.

In recent years the sheer number of defects that we’ve had to repair has become challenging using the resources available, but for the most part we do meet our timescales throughout the year. In recent winters, however, severe flooding and snow events have had a major impact of the road network and resulted in demand increasing four-fold during the early part of each calendar year.

Outstanding defects aren't ignored, and every effort is made to address them as soon as reasonably practicable. This isn't just an issue in Shropshire, but a challenge that all highway authorities are facing.

Why do you tackle one pothole but not ones nearby?

We have a statutory duty to repair any dangerous defects within five or 28 days depending on the severity of the defect. With finite resources available gangs will only focus on these more serious defects so that safety is maintained.

Defects which aren't deemed to be an immediate danger are therefore able to be repaired in a more planned and cost-effective way at a later date. This is common practice across the country and allows councils to both meet their statutory duty and allow budgets to stretch as far as practicable.

Why do you sometimes only carry out temporary repairs?

There are times when only a temporary repair is undertaken and this can be due to several factors, for example:

  • The need for disruptive traffic management to undertake a permanent repair but an immediate need to make safe
  • The stretch of road may be in an imminent programme of works and undertaking a permanent repair wouldn't provide value for money
  • The road is in such a poor condition that methods of cutting the road and compressing the material is likely to lead to further damage to the immediate surrounding area, but the road is not yet in a programme of major repair

This has seen a proportionate rise in the number of potholes needing to be repaired each year. However, we have a statutory duty to deliver services within the budget available and the approach to pothole repairs needs to reflect this.

We work closely with our contractor Kier to ensure that roads are maintained in as efficient a manner as possible. 

What’s happening with government funding for highways maintenance?

Since 2008, councils have seen year on year reductions in funding from government, which forms the majority of the budget with which we operate, with council tax, business rates and other income forming a much smaller proportion of funding each year. This has been particularly stark in highway maintenance, where across the country highway authorities have seen budgets cuts of over 50% on average since 2008. This reduction in funding has exacerbated the situation and seen a significant deterioration in road condition across the country over the same period.

This year has seen a further 23% cut in Department for Transport grant funding compared to last year’s allocation, as a result of the impact of Covid on the economy.

We're actively lobbying government for more, and fairer, funding.

Can you bid for additional funding?

We are, on occasion, able to bid for additional grants made available by the Department for Transport or local enterprise partnership, for works to enhance town centres or introduce active travel measures etc, for which there are strict criteria for funding which wouldn't make areas other than the larger town centres eligible for bidding into these pots of funding.

We've been fortunate enough to receive funding for Shrewsbury in recent years, including £12m to improve the roads and pavements as part of the Shrewsbury integrated Transport Package (SITP). This additional funding has enabled us to divert even more of our own funding away from Shrewsbury and towards other areas in the county.

How is funding allocated across the county?

Many of Shropshire’s rural roads are often ancient tracks that have been built up over time and were never designed to be used by the level and size of traffic currently using these routes. This is particularly true in south Shropshire where the majority of unclassified roads are, and exacerbated by a topography and geology which is not conducive to road maintenance due to the speed of running water and the expanding and contracting of materials in more hilly areas due to greater variations in temperatures.

Our more urban areas, such as Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bridgnorth etc, have roads that have been built from strong foundations and therefore a lot more suited to current demands. By their very nature therefore these roads tend to last significantly longer than other roads in the county. To bring all roads up to a similar level would cost several billion pounds, whereas our budget is approximately £10m each year.

This means that we actually invest far less in maintenance in Shrewsbury than we do in other areas of the county. The typical split in funding across the county is shown below:

Work type




A & B roads

Surface dressing




















As can be seen, by far the greatest proportion of investment takes place in the south of the county.

Why can’t money from the Shrewsbury North West Relief Road be diverted to support maintenance?

The North West Relief Road is primarily funded through external grants specific to that scheme, and reserved for new national infrastructure schemes. Most of the funding for that scheme is provided by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) based on bids made by us to ensure that infrastructure in the county is fit for the future. There is some additional investment from us, but this is mostly funded from contributions from developers given planning permission in the area, to help mitigate the impact of development on the area as is the case with many large new developments.

Were the scheme not to go ahead the money would have to be returned for investment into infrastructure projects elsewhere in the country or to the developers. Funding from that scheme isn't therefore able to be invested into highway maintenance, as the vast majority is not Shropshire Council money to allocate.

How do Shropshire’s roads compare to the rest of the country?

This isn't just a local problem but a national one.

21% of roads maintained by councils in England (outside of London) are considered to be in a very poor condition. We've broadly managed to maintain our network at a better condition than this national average and that's still the case, but the lower funding per mile that we receive for maintenance is beginning to take its toll. The average cost for councils to address this issue is estimated to be £752.6m per authority, with the average budget in the region of £20m per year.

Our ‘A' road network is in relatively good condition and in line with the rest of the country, but as the road classification reduces so does the condition of the road, and this is particularly an issue for our most rural roads, which are deteriorating at a faster rate. We're looking at ways in which we can address this using new techniques and ways of working.

How do you know that Shropshire's roads aren't the worst?

Road condition is measured by use of specialist third-party vehicles which use sonar and lidar technology to identify potholes, cracks and deformation of carriageways to make an assessment of overall network condition.

Surveys are undertaken annually, and all councils are then required to report their overall network value to the Department for Transport, where it's used for various reports on national network condition.

Each council is told by their residents that their roads are so much worse than other authorities, adjoining authorities are often told Shropshire’s roads are better than theirs. Within Shropshire, only 4.4% of classified roads are in need of repair, compared to 21.7% of unclassified roads in need of repair within the county.

Why do works seem to take place at the same time in the same area?

There has been concern about works appearing to being undertaken at the same time in the same area. We operate a ‘permit scheme’ which allows anyone who wants to work on the highway to ‘book’ roadspace and agree terms of how that work must be undertaken. We have a statutory duty to coordinate all works that take place on the public highway, including our own works, to minimise the impact on road users.

Works promoters will often request a road closure order for slightly longer than the works are anticipated to last to ensure that any unforeseen circumstances leading to overrun are able to be undertaken during a period of legal occupation of the carriageway. It doesn't necessarily mean that the road will be closed for the entirety of the time available with the road closure order.

We have a team of works coordinators who liaise daily with works promoters to update programmes and ensure that no closure or diversion routes clash, and that disruption is minimised.

Do you still employ a ‘pothole consultant’?

No, and in fact we never did.

In 2019 we appointed a highways consultant to carry out a fundamental review of our entire highways service, and to provide advice on how to make crucial improvements based on his experience of running very successful highways operations elsewhere. This resulted in a 55 point improvement plan. Many of those improvements are now completed and people will be seeing the benefits of those over the coming years.

We're continuing to identify additional improvements to ensure that we're always delivering the best value and meeting customer needs as far as practicable with the funding available.