£1.2 billion road maintenance backlog

The Department for Infrastructure is unlikely to deliver improved performance and value for money in Northern Ireland’s road network unless it secures more funding certainty, the Audit Office has said.

Already facing a £1.2 billion structural maintenance backlog, uncertainty around funding for the Department continues to impact on the deterioration of the Northern Ireland road network’s condition and in particular, the condition of the local road network, according to a focussed report by the Auditor and Comptroller General.

The report states that operational efficiencies secured by the Department over the past 20 years have been outweighed by long-term financial pressures, leading to further deterioration in the road networks overall condition.

These pressures have arisen from out of a lack of certainty at the beginning of each financial year on the money available for structural maintenance and more recently, these uncertainties have enhanced given that the opening budget has “varied considerably”.

The report adds: “Consequently, there has been reliance on additional in-year funding. This prevents the Department from carrying out all planned maintenance work that is required on the network, which can lead to delays, as well as less economic and sub-standard temporary repairs, until more money becomes available. 

“These funding issues are not conducive to medium or long-term strategic planning and as a result, there is no published strategy in place to deal with structural maintenance, nor the growing maintenance backlog.”

The C&AG asses that this approach does not always provide value for money and that over time, funding pressures have constrained spending on good, value for money preventative maintenance, contributing to a higher proportion of expenditure on reactive maintenance.

More recently, funding pressures have led to lower priority defects being no longer recorded or repaired, allowing further damage to occur and accelerating the rate of network deterioration, this is likely to lead to higher costs in the future which could have been avoided.

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