William Eichler 17 March 2023

Number of ‘substandard’ bridges falls to 3,090

Number of ‘substandard’ bridges falls to 3,090  image
Image: Dave Head/Shutterstock.com.

The proportion of council-managed road bridges classified as ‘substandard’ has fallen slightly over the past year despite local authority budget limitations.

An analysis by the RAC Foundation and the National Bridges Group of ADEPT has revealed that 4.3% of the nearly 72,000 bridges managed by 196 local authorities were ‘substandard’.

This means that 3,090 bridges – or one in every 24 – are subject to weight restrictions and are unable to carry the heaviest vehicles.

The analysis is based on responses to FOI requests made by the Foundation in December 2022 to 207 local highways authorities.

Figures provided to RAC Foundation by 196 councils in 2021 showed that of the 70,944 bridges they reported as managing, 3,211 (4.53%) were substandard.

The local authorities who responded to the Foundation’s most recent FOI requests said they want to bring 2,506 (81%) of the 3,090 substandard bridges back up to full carrying capacity.

However, they said budget limitations mean they anticipate that only 387 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.

The estimated cost to bring all the substandard bridges back up to perfect condition is £918m – down 22% on the £1.16bn figure of a year earlier.

The one-time cost to clear the maintenance backlog on all 71,925 bridges is £5.861bn.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: 'This latest study shows the scale of the challenge local authorities are valiantly wrestling with to protect the critical road infrastructure we all rely on in the context of huge funding and resource pressures.

'The numbers illustrate how important it is for significant sums of money to be spent tackling at least the higher priority work. Whether it is potholes or bridges there is only so long that councils can continue to patch things up before bigger cracks literally start to appear in the road network.

'One other key finding of the report is the need for local authorities to have a very precise inventory of what they are responsible for – attention to detail is critical on what by any road user’s reckoning must be regarded as critical infrastructure.'

The 10 councils with the highest proportion of substandard bridges are:

Rank Local authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Hammersmith and Fulham
 2  50%
2.  Bristol  140  52  37%
Waltham Forest
 51  17  33%
Kensington and Chelsea
 4  1  25%
5.   Brent  40  9  23%
Cheshire East
 1047  194  19%
North Tyneside
 73  13  18%
 58  10  17%
 231  36  16%
10.  Essex  981  151  15%


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