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Council redefines "potholes" to save £120,000

Cash-strapped Perth and Kinross Council are considering waiting until potholes are 60mm deep before repairing

A council is considering changing the definition of a pothole to a 60mm (almost 2.5 inch) depth in order to save money on repairs.

In a document identifying potential savings in the face of budget cuts Perth and Kinross Council in Scotland last month proposed redefining the term “pothole” from the current 40mm to save approximately £120,000 in annual repairs, along with reduced investment across its services.

However, CTC says the move could prove a false economy as claims due to injuries caused by pothole collisions can run into six figures, with the potential for fatal injury to cyclists if road surfaces are allowed to deteriorate.

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Sam Jones, Campaigns Coordinator at CTC said: “Potholes have long been the scourge of our roads – which is why as the national cycling charity, CTC created the Fill that Hole app to report them. Potholes and other road defects aren’t just mere inconveniences for cyclists but can also lead to serious injury and even death.

“Perth and Kinross Council’s proposals to change their pot hole intervention criteria under justifications of £120,000 savings is likely to be a false economy, as road users’ claims increase. Money paid out in the costly settlements would be far better dedicated towards preventing the problem in the first place - this would save not just money but lives.”

In a document outlining possible savings the council identifies a number of roads maintenance services on which savings can be made. It suggests: “Increase the intervention level for defect repairs e.g. from 40mm in road to 60mm and thus reduce the level of reactive repairs carried out. This will require a change in the current policy.”

The council notes this could pose increased risk to those with visual impairments and mobility issues and could cause “accelerated deterioration of road network surface requiring higher cost/premature capital investment.” It does not mention a risk to cyclists arising from the changes.

An RAC spokesperson told the Telegraph the larger a pothole becomes the greater the risk it poses to road users and the more costly it is to repair.

In 2011 Martyn Uzzell was killed after cycling over a pothole in North Yorkshire during a Lands End to John O’Groats attempt. He was thrown into the path of a car, and Yorkshire County Council reportedly payed a 6-figure sum in compensation. A coroner said there was “no doubt” the defect was to blame for his death. 

Jones says local roads and streets need to be prioritised as these are routes most used by pedestrians and cyclists, for whom injury from poorly-maintained road surfaces can have the most serious consequences. He says planned road maintenance is a cost-efficient time to introduce cycle infrastructure.

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