Coldest December on record takes a massive toll

As councils around the UK assess the damage to their road networks following the coldest December on record, some must be wondering whether to stick or twist.

If they fix the roads this early in the winter there is a real possibility that another cold snap will create the type of conditions that did the original damage, undoing all their good – and expensive – repair work.

On the other hand, if they decide to wait until the winter weather is behind us, they risk incurring the wrath of road users who will remain vulnerable to damaged wheels, tyres and – especially in the case of cyclists – bodies. And that damage can, tragically, be a lot more than skinned knees and elbows.

Last year in Wiltshire an army officer, Captain Jonathan Allen, was killed when he was hit by a lorry after apparently swerving to avoid a massive pothole, described afterwards as “more like a trench.”

To complicate matters further, increasingly in modern Britain the fear of compensation claims is affecting decisions by bodies such as councils about when and where to spend their cash.

And all this comes at a time when council budgets are being cut to the bone. Councils will not know the total bill for repairs until the worst of the winter weather has passed, but the estimates are that the total bill is likely to exceed that caused by the wintry weather which gripped Britain early last year.

In Wales the Assembly Government has already announced a communal £7m pot for grit and pothole repairs which is available for Welsh councils to dip into. In the Welsh county of Conwy, Stuart Davies, head of the council’s highways and infrastructures, told the Daily Post newspaper that in terms of a repair bill, there was, “no figure but the surface and structure of many roads will be affected by the freezing conditions”.

And when questioned about whether the repair bill for this winter will be greater than that for last, he said: “It is impossible to say at this stage but it is certain that there will be considerable damage to the highway network due to the severity of the winter up until now.”

That uncertainty about repair costs is no doubt representative of the headaches being suffered by councils up and down the country and with another cold snap just about to begin, there may well be yet more damage, more expense and potentially more compensation claims on the way.

Meanwhile the Institute of Advanced Motorists, which also embraces cyclists these days, is calling for duty from fuel and the extra money raised from the VAT increase to be earmarked for road repairs and road safety measures.

Every year, the Institute says, the government raises more than £25billion in fuel tax and £13billion in VAT from road users. It makes long-term economic sense, says the IAM, to keep investing in better roads now to save even higher bills in the future.

As for the here and now, the CTC has launched an iPhone App to report potholes to www.fillthathole.org.uk. As cyclists, it is in our own self-interest to be pro-active on the issue of pothole notification. After all, just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so the reported pothole gets the repair.


bikeandy61 [538 posts] 7 years ago

The reality is that the majority of potholes that came about last winter never did get repaired. The winter we have had so far will only make these worse as well as creating new ones. We are also only 1/3rd of the way through the winter!

As for councils - when we were cycling last Feb one of my friends was unable to avoid a pothole resulting in a damaged wheel that needed a new rim and wheel build. He approached the local council who got the hole in question "repaired" and said they would process his claim for the cost of damages. Eventually (3 plus months) he got a letter from AXA Insurance who are obviously the councils insurance provider. The letter stated that all roads in the councils region are assessed once every 30 days and all damage recorded. As the hole had not appeared in the survey reported prior to the incident they claimed that they had no responsibility for the damage. Apparently the council are only responsible for incidents related to recorded road damage! Now to me there are a number of issues here. While I can believe that the system works this way it is the opposite of how an MOT works for instance. An MOT is only a snapshot of a cars condition on the day of the test. Just because you have a valid MOT certificate, it doesn't mean that you cannot be held responsible for faults on your car that occur subsequently. My other issue is that I simply do not believe that any council in the UK can or does assess every road within it's boundaries and accurately record their condition. I doubt you could undertake to do this correctly once a year never mind 12 times a year.

I have some sympathy for the situation that councils have arrived at but in a lot of ways it is down to local and national governments avoidance of maintenance. This situation is endemic throughout the private and public sector where current savings are not weighed against the eventual crisis cost. Personally I believe we are at a crisis point as the country is no longer in a financial position where it can afford to undertake the infrastructure repairs that are truly needed, at least in the sort of time scale required.

End of rant.

dave atkinson [6348 posts] 7 years ago

you can submit a freedom of information act to find out whether the council have in fact adhered to the standards set out in the highway maintenance manuals. If they have, the you may as well give it up as a dead loss. If they haven't, then you may have a claim. the reply you got is simply the standard boiler plate.

the best step-by-step guide i know of is here: http://www.potholes.co.uk/claims/step_by_step_guide

antonio [1168 posts] 7 years ago

Having recently watched a stream of 'experts' council officials and auto organisation reps on tv, I'm surprised no one mentioned the product seen on these pages fairly recently, an end to pothole misery. It was glaringly obvious that those most at risk, ie cyclists, were not chosen for interviews, car suspension systems taking precedence for concern.

swldxer [84 posts] 7 years ago

Oh dear, a return to the Road Fund.

That would be a disaster for cyclists if drivers knew that their taxes were going directly on road repairs.