How long before the UK’s sub-standard bridges affect property values?

Lostwithiel Bridge crosses the River Fowey in Cornwall

Nowadays, potholes are widely recognised as the bane of many drivers’ lives, as councils fail to maintain the public road system, but Italy’s Genoa bridge disaster has highlighted the possible consequences of poor bridge maintenance. The bridge collapse killed 43 people.

A survey of the UK’s sub-standard bridges, carried out by the RAC Foundation, has identified 3,441 bridges that are sub-standard.

The annual survey looked at 74,000 council-maintained bridges that are over 1.5m in span and expected to bear the weight of a 44-ton lorry, the heaviest vehicle permitted on roads.

Experts say that budget cutbacks have exacerbated maintenance problems, estimating the cost of bringing the bridges up to standard to at £271,000 per bridge, a total of around £934 million. The total cost of completing all the necessary work on bridges is around £5 billion, a whopping 28% more than was estimated just one year ago.

Budget restrictions mean that in the UK, over the next five years, only 370 of the 2,077 bridges that councils would like to bring back to standard will actually have the necessary work completed.

All of this is shocking news, particularly for those using the public highway in rural England and Wales – and the potential impact is far reaching.

Impact on rural communities

Those living and working in rural homes are all too aware of problem bridges – with Devon, Somerset, Essex, Cornwall and Suffolk topping of the list of local councils with the largest number of bridges and (unsurprisingly) also the the areas with the largest number of sub-standard bridges.

Local Authority No. of Bridges No. of Sub Standard Proportion of Sub Standard
Devon 3,867 249 6%
Somerset 1,487 168 11%
Essex 1,660 160 10%
Cornwall 1,006 144 14%
Suffolk 924 128 14%
Northumberland 965 123 13%
Lancashire 1,473 104 7%
Cumbria 1,700 70 4%
Gloucestershire 962 69 7%
Cambridgeshire 878 63 7%
 Total 14,922 1,278 9%

Data from 2016/17 Survey by RAC Foundation

Only 6% of sub-standard bridges will receive the funding necessary to return them to load capacity in the next five years. However, councils said that even if no resource restrictions were imposed they would return just 63% of bridges to full load capacity.

National supply network

Much of England’s supply network relies on road links, and rural areas will be hard hit as roads and bridges continue to decline. Many older bridge structures built on country roads were never designed to be used by heavy lorries and, even though they may previously have been able to withstand the weight, the lack of maintenance has made many unsafe for the purpose. Weight restrictions have been introduced to protect them, with some receiving additional monitoring and others ‘managed decline’. Drivers of heavy vehicles regularly blame Sat Nav for causing them to break weight limits but even repeated fines hasn’t deterred some drivers.

Living and working in rural areas

People living in rural homes are heavily dependent on the road transport infrastructure to access local services and employment opportunities and, when your home is in a remote or rural area, the difficulties in accessing these may be further compounded by the effects of disruption to road transport.

Public transport is unavailable in many rural areas, making key services unavailable without a car. The closure of just one bridge or road can necessitate long diversions, sometimes making access to medical facilities, schools and workplaces impossible.

Rural property market

Desirable, high price country homes attract the more affluent, with their off-the-beaten-track locations and associated peaceful lifestyle, but the fight for attractive rural properties in pretty unspoilt locations has left its mark at the other end of the spectrum.

The number of people now living in rural areas, many of them in their senior years, who are considered to be ‘in poverty’ is roughly equal to the number who are ‘rich’. Local housing markets have spiralled beyond reach of those who have lived and worked in the country all their lives.

As towns and communities have swollen with the ranks of the well-off, so too have the quantity of supplies delivered by road transport.

Without urgent action, living in the countryside will becomes even more difficult – even for those who can afford it.

It’s time for government and councils to open their eyes to the problem, even if only because the collapse of the Genoa Bridge that killed 43 people has led to Italian prosecutors’ investigation of 20 people suspected of involuntary manslaughter.

Contact your local Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registered Chartered Surveyor for an independent home survey, building survey or property valuation in Cornwall or elsewhere in England or Wales.

Back to September 2018 Newsletter