Do councils know where their drains are?

Nearly 50% of AA members say road drainage no better than during winter storms

Nearly 50% of AA members say road drainage no better than during winter storms

Nearly 50% of AA members say road drainage no better than during winter storms

An end to ‘biblical’ levels of rainfall and flooding at the start of this year has failed to stop the plague of puddles and ponds on UK roads.

Even with long dry periods this summer, drainage on main and local roads has often been unable to cope with sporadic downpours.

In June, when the UK received 76% of its average rainfall and 109% of its average sunshine hours, two out of five AA members (40%) said that road drainage was no better than during the winter storms and that big puddles and pools of water remained a threat to drivers.  A further 9% said that drainage was even worse than during the period of winter deluges.

National and Regional differences

An AA-Populus poll of AA members between 10 and 19 June 2014 received 18,026 responses and revealed the following regional profile:

Which of the following statements most accurately reflects the way local roads in your area drain following heavy rain?

  Road drainage is no better now than it was during the winter Road drainage is even worse now than during the winter Drainage is generally good and big puddles are not a problem
Scotland 41% 11% 17%
North East 45% 9% 15%
North West 42% 10% 19%
Yorks/Humberside 46% 10% 19%
West Midlands 41% 11% 17%
East Midlands 45% 10% 18%
Wales 42% 9% 19%
East Anglia 42% 9% 20%
london 30% 7% 29%
South East 39% 9% 15%
South West 38% 10% 14%
N Ireland 33% 6% 30%

Asset records

Much of the problem comes down to local authorities not knowing where their drains are and their condition, according to a new Department for Transport investigation into the impact of extreme weather on the UK transport system.

The Transport Resilience Review report, published 22 July 2014 by the Department for Transport, stated:

5.71 Clearly, drainage systems are a key part of the road network. We were advised that many local authorities do not have comprehensive information records about these assets, and that only in some cases is information about these assets collected as part of their Asset Management Plans.

The impact of those failures is clear:

5.70 Flooding severely impacted the local road network over the past winter  and, with the prospect of a trend to wetter winters in future, LHAs face the prospect of that experience become more frequent, especially if drainage systems are not operating at their maximum effectiveness, because of inadequate maintenance regimes.

Weeks of dry weather should have helped drain the winter water and drainage systems should be resilient enough for summer cloudbursts

Paul Watters, AA head of roads policy

Ponds following normal rainfall

“In the winter, while the UK was focused on ‘biblical’ rainfall in the West Country and the South, the North West and other parts of the country were also experiencing treacherous ponds and puddles on their roads – following normal rainfall,” says Paul Watters, the AA’s head of roads policy.

“From March onwards, rainfall became more normal and this summer has included some long periods of hot, dry weather, occasionally punctuated by typical heavy summer thunderstorms. However, the roads in many and, usually, the same places have often become inundated. Weeks of dry weather should have helped drain the winter water and drainage systems should be resilient enough for summer cloudbursts.

“Along many stretches of often fast road the ‘flood’ signs pop up routinely, or simply remain. That’s far from satisfactory and will lead to extra cost, danger and disruption when heavy rain returns.

Now a government report confirms that many local authorities don’t even know where their drains are, and whether they are the blocked drainage equivalent of ticking time bombs

Paul Watters, AA head of roads policy

Money well spent

“Drivers, who don’t drive those stretches of road regularly enough to know where pools of water can be a menace, run a real risk of having an accident. Crashes and blocked drains turn into significant costs that are borne by other agencies like the fire and rescue services or the NHS. Investing in good road drainage maintenance practices is therefore money well spent.

“Now a government report confirms that many local authorities don’t even know where their drains are, and whether they are the blocked drainage equivalent of ticking time bombs,” Watters adds.

“Once again, budget squeezes are forcing highway authorities to take risks with our safety on the roads, ultimately leading to a greater cost imposed on everyone. Ignoring or deferring vital maintenance on a hidden but critical feature of our roads is burying a problem that is guaranteed to rear its head eventually.”


(14 August 2014)