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Is Pothole Armageddon Just Being Papered Over By A Temporary Fix?

Pothole in middle of the road
21st October 2013

Potholes are in the news again. Not that the problem of the UK’s disrupted road surfaces has ever gone away. In fact, according to figures collected by breakdown service, Britannia Rescue, we are presently engulfed by a “pothole epidemic”, which has led to a staggering near 80 per cent increase in accident claims from local authorities in the last 12 months. 

Previous estimates put the number of potholes waiting to be repaired around the country to be more than two million – which could take anywhere between 10 and 15 years to complete. 

In 2011, with so many potholes awaiting repair, the Highways Agency decided to change the definition of a pothole, which also means the evaluation of a “safe” road and the requirement for a necessary repair. 

Under the new definition, if a hole in the road is less than 6 inches wide and 1.5 inches in depth (referred to as “soup bowl” size) then a repair does not have to be carried out immediately, if according to the Highway’s Agency, “the requirements for providing a safe road are still there”. 

A March 2013 survey by the Automobile Association revealed that 50 per cent of members said that local road conditions were “worse” and 14 per cent said “much worse” than the same period in 2012.

Poor road surfaces deteriorate even further

A pattern of repeated atrocious weather conditions– including a harsh winter followed by a dry summer last year - have conspired to make the already poor road surfaces deteriorate even further. Today there could be as many as “one pothole for every mile of road” across the UK. Over the last year, nearly 1 in ten of motorists have had their cars damaged by potholes, the most common issues experienced being damage to tyres, wheel rims and suspension. 

The Highway Authority has a legal duty to maintain the highway (Highways Act 1980). Under the Act, local Councils must ensure they operate a system of regular inspections and maintenance schedules. However, local authorities are known to be behind in their repair works despite repeated claims that they operate a regular system of highway inspections. 

However, if a council can demonstrate a road had been inspected within a “set time limit” before the incident, a defence against a compensation claim can be made. It has been found that “set time limit” could range from one to 12 months depending on the “nature of the road and the volume of traffic”.

Years of under investment

The problems of keeping up with road maintenance are said to be caused by “years of under-investment”. Since 2009/10 spending on road maintenance by the Highways Agency has actually fallen by £560 million and by £301 million at local highway authorities. 

As a result, it seems that authorities have resorted to “short-term fixes”. It has been found that nearly a quarter of all councils admit they usually just make temporary repairs to potholes rather than carry out a more permanent resurfacing of the damaged area. 

If the predictions of wider extremes of weather are correct and our roads are to be subjected to extremes of temperature and flooding, Britain’s pothole crisis could deepen, increasing accident and injury in a tarmac armageddon -  and the ‘stuff of local authority nightmares...