Road to ruin: Councils warn they may have to ignore pothole repairs on some roads

Funding cuts and poor winters mean more defects - but DfT says its up to councils to allocate cash they’re given

by Simon_MacMichael   February 5, 2014  

A pothole yesterday - Image by dasmart via Flickr

Councils in England have warned that a £10.5 billion backlog of road repairs meaning that local  authorities may have to forget about repairing defects such as potholes on some rural roads altogether. The Department for Transport insists though that it has made more money available for local road maintenance.

According to a BBC News report, the Local Government Association (LGA) says that a succession of poor winters plus cuts in funding and have left councils overwhelmed, meaning all they can do is seek to patch up roads where possible.

Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s Economy and Transport Board told the BBC: “Unless something changes, we risk seeing large swathes of Britain’s road network dangerously strewn with potholes and becoming so unsafe they will need to be shut completely.”

But the DfT said it was up to councils to prioritise their spending and insisted it had made money available for repair work.

“The government is providing over £3.4bn in this parliament and over £5.8bn in the next for local highways maintenance,” said a DfT spokesperson.

“It is the responsibility of authorities to manage their highway assets and to ensure that they have appropriate contingencies in place to deal with any severe weather that may occur from time to time.”

The BBC’s report focused on Cornwall where the local road network, often comprising country lanes, provides an essential transport link for industries such as agriculture and tourism that are the lifeblood of the local economy.

Bert Biscoe, Cornwall County Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “The problem is that for 100 years we’ve been maintaining the roads to the very best standards we can.

“We’ve lived off the fat of that. But now we’re squeezed in terms of council tax and we’re being starved of resources.

“We’re going to have to consider withdrawing maintenance from the rural road network. If we withdraw we will be pulling the legs out from under the Cornish economy.”

One problem highlighted is that constant patching up of repairs, rather than relaying the road, does nothing to address the long-term damage being done to roads beneath the surface, storing up greater problems in the future.

“The mixture of really severe cold and wet winters has got really into the fabric of the road. The water table has risen,” explained Simon Deacon, who is operations director for Cormac, the contractor which repairs Cornwall’s roads.

“That breaks the road down. The weather has exposed the underinvestment of the last few years,” he added.

Away from Cornwall, the issue of potholes is making local newspaper headlines throughout England.

In East Sussex, council workmen repaired a large pothole in Telham after 11 vehicles were reported to have been damaged while being driven over it in a matter of minutes.

Within days of the pothole being filled in, however, it had reappeared, causing even more vehicles to be damaged, reports the Rye and Battle Observer.

Roger Williams, head of highways at East Sussex County Council, promised to make “more permanent repairs” to the pothole, but added: “Although we are doing our best to deal with potholes, the amount of rain we have had in recent weeks has made carrying out permanent repairs difficult.”

In Buckinghamshire, meanwhile, the 2012/13 saw a huge rise in pothole claims against the county council, reports the Thame Gazette.

During the year, 1,139 claims were made compared to 434, but only 13 succeeded. The newspaper said that eight in ten claims were rejected on the basis that the council had not been notified of the defect prior to the damage to the vehicle happening.

While potholes can be an inconvenience to motorists, at time resulting in costly repairs, they can be lethal to cyclists and organisations such as the AA and IAM advise drivers to be aware that bike riders may have to swerve to avoid such hazards.

Last month, a Hertfordshire cyclist lost his front teeth and suffered bruising to his teeth after hitting a pothole while he rode to work, reports the Herts and Essex Observer.

Barry Felstead, aged 54, told the newspaper: “I travel the same way everyday but I hadn’t noticed the hole before because the street lights are off at that time so it’s always dark.

“I was just lucky that there wasn’t a car coming otherwise it could have been much worse. Someone else might not be so lucky.”

The poor state of many roads, coupled with January’s record rainfall, creates an additional hazard for cyclists, since puddles can conceal potholes.

In February 2010, army officer Jonathan Allen died when he was struck by a lorry as he swerved to avoid a big, water filled pothole as he rode home on his bike in the dark.

The council had inspected the pothole the week before his death but decided it did not warrant immediate attention, filling it in two days after the fatal crash.

A coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.

CTC’s Fill That Hole iPhone app, given £30,000 in funding by the DfT in December to go towards a revamp and development of an Android version, allows cyclists and other road users to highlight defects that need remedying to the relevant local authority.

27 user comments

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Does that mean us living in rural areas can look forward to a reduction in council tax?

posted by anarchy [60 posts]
5th February 2014 - 15:20

23 Likes

I know plenty of roads that haven't been touched for years, and now those roads are failing. trenches cut by utility companies where the repair has never really bonded to the original surface and now the patch is coming out, or the join is failing.

With the current wet weather, as soon as the tarmac has failed the holes opens up in minutes, literally!!

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1365 posts]
5th February 2014 - 15:32

35 Likes

“The problem is that for 100 years we’ve been maintaining the roads to the very best standards we can.

Rubbish, you've been slipping repairs for the last ten years or more and it's finally catching up with you...

posted by Paul_C [260 posts]
5th February 2014 - 15:32

31 Likes

I hope they at least prioritise the cycle network rural roads. A lot of them are a disgrace, but all too often the rural road down which you can find a councillors house is nicely surfaced.

posted by paulrbarnard [147 posts]
5th February 2014 - 16:04

30 Likes

Ever since the industrial revolution productivity has been increasing. The average worker still doesn't get to go home with more than what they need to just get by. And yet we keep being told there is less and less money available for education, infrastructure and health. Where exactly is all that money going? I want to know because I increasingly feel like picking up my pitchfork and going to get it back.

Work harder. Buy a tank.

userfriendly's picture

posted by userfriendly [325 posts]
5th February 2014 - 16:09

31 Likes

userfriendly wrote:
Ever since the industrial revolution productivity has been increasing. The average worker still doesn't get to go home with more than what they need to just get by. And yet we keep being told there is less and less money available for education, infrastructure and health. Where exactly is all that money going? I want to know because I increasingly feel like picking up my pitchfork and going to get it back.

Yes and since the industrial revolution a whole network of canals was built to move goods about because there were no roads as we would know them. Then a railway network was built, then a pretty extensive road network culminating with a motorway system.

The idea that life was better back in the day is a load of old garbage. We are a developed country. A lot of our infrastructure is old. There is a lot of it. It's expensive to maintain to the standard we like.

I lived in the US for a long while and outside the cities and off the state roads and Federal interstates the roads are shocking. Why else do you think they have spongy suspension and a lot of 4x4s and why else do you think they regard the idea of pootling around in a Nissan Micra to be a joke.

The British Public have made their decision clear. They may say in public that they want better services and more spending but in the privacy of the ballot box they are most impressed by the prospect of tax cuts or at least no rises. (for them at least).

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [745 posts]
5th February 2014 - 17:14

36 Likes

I see that West Sussex CC plans to allocate an additional £30m to its unclassified roads over the next 2 years, so you know where to head for:

http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/your_council/news_and_events/news/2013_arch...

posted by Bexleyhillbilly [42 posts]
5th February 2014 - 17:19

26 Likes

I'll put up with some pot holes if there going to close the roads to cars.

A local road I use for my day commute was close to all traffic for a couple of months last summer. I was able to get round the building work on my bike and it made 5 miles of my commute just about car free, it was brilliant.

Housecathst's picture

posted by Housecathst [96 posts]
5th February 2014 - 17:44

26 Likes

YOU CAN’T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/you-cant-cut-back-on-funding-you-will-regr...

tumblr_l9s0oylfm21qz4w1go1_400.png
PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [591 posts]
5th February 2014 - 18:40

18 Likes

To all those motorists who claim that they pay for the roads through their 'road tax', ask yourselves why the roads are no longer maintained despite you paying just as much 'road tax' as ever! Waiting Waiting

This article is perfect evidence that local roads are paid through council tax not 'road tax' and because the councils are not able to raise council tax (both a blessing and a curse) they do not have the funds to fix the roads.

posted by earth [115 posts]
5th February 2014 - 19:05

20 Likes

earth wrote:
To all those motorists who claim that they pay for the roads through their 'road tax', ask yourselves why the roads are no longer maintained despite you paying just as much 'road tax' as ever! Waiting Waiting

This article is perfect evidence that local roads are paid through council tax not 'road tax' and because the councils are not able to raise council tax (both a blessing and a curse) they do not have the funds to fix the roads.

Its now called Vehicle Excise Duty ..Road Tax was abolished in 1937 and now goes into the big tax pot so they can spend it on anything they want .... an 11% pay rise anyone

Until the general public start complaining in public instead of in silence nothing will change

posted by djfleming22 [14 posts]
5th February 2014 - 19:41

22 Likes

djfleming22 wrote:
Its now called Vehicle Excise Duty ..Road Tax was abolished in 1937

I am aware of that. It is why I put road tax between inverted commas.

posted by earth [115 posts]
5th February 2014 - 19:52

19 Likes

Yeah, I don't see the problem. Why doesn't government simply announce 'road tax' increases to plug the gap.

I tried working out 10.5 billion (road repair cost) by the number of UK registered vehicles at 34.5 million but the calc struggled and I'm not sure I believed the number I got.

Either way it's a lot of money for each vehicle but at least the road tax brigade would be right for once!

So...any councillors out there want to grow a pair and actually propose it?

One for Mr. Cameron perhaps.

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [191 posts]
5th February 2014 - 20:30

16 Likes

Two councillors live down a posh country lane, near where I live, and the tarmac is as smooth as anything I have ever seen Cool

"Hey..... Let's be visible out there."

Neil753's picture

posted by Neil753 [451 posts]
5th February 2014 - 20:52

21 Likes

PJ McNally wrote:
YOU CAN’T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/you-cant-cut-back-on-funding-you-will-regret-this

Awesomes. Nerd

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1103 posts]
5th February 2014 - 20:59

26 Likes

Two things I don't understand -

(a) Why aren't private utility companies obliged to _properly_ restore the road surface after they dig it up (at their own expense)? Time and again you find half-fixed "trenches" across the road that you have to brace yourself for once you learn where they are...or botched fill-ins that will obviously fail very quickly

(b) Why, when potholes _are_ repaired by the council, do they do such an obviously shoddy job that usually return to being a pothole within a year? (Like several in the road near where I live, that are now back to being worse than they were before they were 'repaired' only a year or so ago - they started to fall apart within months of being 'fixed'). Its seems a complete waste of resources to do it badly.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [753 posts]
5th February 2014 - 21:21

20 Likes

As long as councils continue to waste money on unsafe, badly designed and implemented "traffic calming" schemes like they do in South Somerset, the roads will continue to fall apart, like they do in South Somerset...

markfireblade's picture

posted by markfireblade [24 posts]
5th February 2014 - 21:36

15 Likes

Bexleyhillbilly wrote:
I see that West Sussex CC plans to allocate an additional £30m to its unclassified roads over the next 2 years, so you know where to head for:

http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/your_council/news_and_events/news/2013_archive/december_2013/roads_boost_will_be_in_the_reg.aspx


won't even scratch the surface of the backlog the tory gobshites that run WSCC have allowed to build up over the last few years.

That said, ime, if you report it, as a cyclist, and it qualifies, they fix it.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [389 posts]
5th February 2014 - 21:36

15 Likes

Bloody awful news, having just 'finished off my 90% tired' road wheels both dented rims on a huge pothole in the dark I'm now on a crusade to report very pothole I pass. One day I'll satisfy the time period and win a claim. I'm hanging onto my damaged wheels. Fraud yes but honesty doesn't pay when the one sided councils operate on their own terms.

We're all entitled to a reasonable opinion!

posted by Guyz2010 [291 posts]
5th February 2014 - 23:15

15 Likes

"Pulling the legs from under the Cornish economy" - No perhaps indicating that the Cornish economy has been built on the shaky foundations of dependence on cheap transport by road on a roads network which is not 'robust' enough to carry the traffic, because it is under-maintained, and under-specified for the traffic loadings.

Minor road links might be maintained for light traffic, with heavy vehicles permitted under special conditions, running at reduced speeds (road damage is magnified by a factor of the square of the square of the vehicle speed double the speed and 8 times the damage)

One way to reduce the repair bills in town is to only repair the roads which the law requires the Council to repair. Check your local town or city - especially after a fall of snow, and see just how much road is actually needed to move the traffic. Potentially lless than 50% of the road surfaces are actually needed - much of the rest is used to park cars (often for no cost to the owners) when they sit idle for typically 95% of the time. So by not repairing road space used for parking, a council might save up to 50% on road repair costs. The mechanism does exist s.69 or 70 RTA 1988 if I recall it right, to stop up the road not required for moving traffic and (normally) return the ownership to the frontager, as the land titles usually include the solum of the road outside. The potential is huge - frontagers might extend their gardens with a mini-plot in the street outside, or work co-operatively to rent out their land as parking space, at a stroke removing the perennial arguments over councils making a profit from parking (which is technically illegal - s.1.9 prohibits making any profit from use of the land on which the road sits, as it often belongs to the frontagers)

Now I'll bet that's got you all checking your title deeds!

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [504 posts]
6th February 2014 - 2:05

12 Likes

markfireblade wrote:
As long as councils continue to waste money on unsafe, badly designed and implemented "traffic calming" schemes like they do in South Somerset, the roads will continue to fall apart, like they do in South Somerset...

And it is largely the fault of the Cameron government that so much money is being allocated to "capital" schemes like traffic calming instead of "revenue" schemes like repairs. Look at the local transport bodies: they're nearly all planning to build more roads, with very little for cycling or mass transport. And where's the money to maintain even more roads going to come from?

posted by a.jumper [727 posts]
6th February 2014 - 8:02

23 Likes

In a way the DfT is right about funding. Councils get lots of cash in the form of maintenance and transport plan grants. the trouble is that many see these as a way of implementing shiny, new, pet projects rather than keeping what they've got up to scratch.
Follow this up with utility companies not filling their holes properly, councils not actively chasing for rectification (is that even a word?) and, dare i say, the end of the financial year so the councils haven't allowed enough budget for the winter months, you have a disaster. As for that third point, don't know why they don't budget properly; it's not like autumn and winter come at different times every year.
And my final moan. i agree with markfireblade's comment. Too often they spend money on bike paths on straight roads yet omit any decent safety measures where they are really need; junctions and roundabouts. God forbid that the through-velocity of a motor vehicle is ever reduced.

posted by matttheaudit [51 posts]
6th February 2014 - 12:46

12 Likes

One reason it's getting worse is HGVs, which have increased in size, weight and number over the years, drastically increasing the harmful impact they have on the road network.

In rural areas farm traffic has a similar effect. Tractors get wider and heavier. They damage the verge, exposing the edge of the road to damage, and bring even more soil from fields onto the road, which blocks both natural drainage and sewers. Dairy farmers are the worst offenders; to make money you need to produce more and more milk, meaning more cows and lots more feed, manure and slurry being carted around.

Another is the quality of repairs. In Shropshire many potholes and other damage to the road surface are poorly patched and not sealed so they break up very quickly.

While councils are under pressure to make big budget cuts they are unlikely to have a more proactive policy towards road maintenance. Ultimately the blame lies with the selfish bastards who voted for this bunch of millionaire muppets in the first place.
Angry

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2059 posts]
6th February 2014 - 14:16

13 Likes

earth wrote:
djfleming22 wrote:
Its now called Vehicle Excise Duty ..Road Tax was abolished in 1937

I am aware of that. It is why I put road tax between inverted commas.

Smile too subtle...

posted by andyp [1075 posts]
7th February 2014 - 8:26

9 Likes

matttheaudit wrote:
In a way the DfT is right about funding. Councils get lots of cash in the form of maintenance and transport plan grants. the trouble is that many see these as a way of implementing shiny, new, pet projects rather than keeping what they've got up to scratch.

Take a look at how many DfT grants are awarded for maintenance. DfT practically encourages shiny new pet projects with things like the Local Pinch Point Fund and so on. It's within their power to change this.

I agree on the utility companies not filling or sealing properly and the councils not holding them to account. One small note on roundabouts, I know councils that are actively trying to reduce the through-velocity of motor vehicles, but of course it's motivated by maximising capacity for motor vehicles, not capacity or safety of other users.

posted by a.jumper [727 posts]
7th February 2014 - 12:01

7 Likes

userfriendly wrote:
Ever since the industrial revolution productivity has been increasing. The average worker still doesn't get to go home with more than what they need to just get by. And yet we keep being told there is less and less money available for education, infrastructure and health. Where exactly is all that money going? I want to know because I increasingly feel like picking up my pitchfork and going to get it back.

In going on increased share-holder dividends and CEO bonuses. The wealth gap in the UK has increased hugely in the last 20 years.

posted by blinddrew [21 posts]
7th February 2014 - 22:18

12 Likes

What infuriates me is that much of the time the potholes occur where previous repairs have been badly done. At least that's recognised ("One problem highlighted is that constant patching up of repairs") but in my humble opinion contractors just seem to do poor jobs as quickly as they can. And no one polices them. I'd fine the buggers if the repair doesn't last, say, more than a year. And it's my money that pays them!!

Sam

posted by zagatosam [34 posts]
10th February 2014 - 14:37

5 Likes