DORSET councillors are to question what ‘managed decline’ means for the county’s roads network.

The phrase appears in a council road strategy document – and set alarm bells ringing for councillors on one of the overview committees.

On Tuesday, July 5, they will ask officers and the portfolio holder, Cllr Ray Bryan, exactly what the policy means for the future condition of Dorset’s busier roads.

Cabinet member Cllr Bryan said at a recent meeting that Dorset’s roads compare well to neighbouring counties – but says there is a mis-match between the cost of maintenance and available Government funding.

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A report on the Dorset Highway Asset Management strategy to the Place and Resources Overview Committee says the use of the phrase ‘managed decline’ recognises that the council is not able to invest enough in the main road network to hold existing conditions.

It says the highways strategy document is being open about the reality of the funding issue:

“This a national issue experienced by many other highway authorities, other than those that have borrowed significant sums of money to invest in highway asset maintenance. The consensus nationally is that highway authorities should be open in communicating this message to stakeholders, to manage expectations,” says the report.

It goes on to say that the Department of Transport grant for 2021-22 saw an almost 20 per cent reduction in capital funding for highway maintenance compared to 20-21 – amounting to around £4million. In addition road materials have been increasing in cost by between 9 and 20 per cent, further eroding the budget and widening the funding gap.

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The council says it is expecting to get around £16.4m each year for the next three years from the Department for highway maintenance in the county – with no increase for inflation.

The council estimates that to maintain existing road conditions would require £23.5m a year and is to find an extra £6.7m each year, for five years, to help close the gap in Department of Transport funding.

The report says that not all of the extra capital funding will be spent on roads – with sums ranging between £130,000 and £400,000 going to maintenance of footways, cycleways, drainage road marking and traffic control, with £640,000 for bridges.