The local elections saw politicians up and down the country turning their attention to potholes. If we were in power, the story goes, there would be fewer of them and life would be better.
After Rishi Sunak’s photo opportunity by a pothole in Darlington, on 17 April 2023, saw the Liberal Democrats publishing data that put Stoke-on-Trent at the top of a chart of shame for the longest waits to fix a pothole: 567 days, according to information collected through Freedom of Information requests. Not far behind Stoke-on-Trent was Westminster with a 556-day wait between a pothole being reported and fixed, with Norfolk, East Sussex and Wiltshire all going well over the 365-day mark.
The 81 councils who provided information to the LibDem researchers reported 556, 658 potholes in 2021/22, compared to 519,968 potholes in 2017/18. That’s a rise of around 7%, not a huge upward trend. And although the number of miles driven by all motor vehicles has fallen over that period, the miles travelled by vans – no doubt making deliveries from internet purchases - has risen, according to the Department for Transport.
The figure of 556,658 potholes seems high compared to the figures quoted in the 2022 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. The ALARM report estimated that 1.7m potholes were fixed in England and Wales in 2021/22 by the 350-plus local authorities in England and Wales.
According to the LibDem’s research, Derbyshire County Council had to deal with the most potholes in 2021/22 with 90,596, followed by Lancashire County Council with 67,439 and Northumberland County Council with 51,703. Clearly, the length of road, the types of road and traffic volumes vary hugely between councils.
The LibDems are calling out the Government for claiming to have provided a £200m potholes fund, whilst cutting road maintenance budgets by £500m in 2022/23 compared to the previous year. They say that the Government should restore the £500m and pay the additional pothole fund too.
At a local political level, potholes are a hot topic too. On the day the LibDem report was launched, The Times reported that the parish of Hadlow Downs in East Sussex, is looking into whether it can sue the county council, for misconduct in public office due to its poor handling of potholes.
A letter to other councils in East Sussex is reported to say: “We were surprised to learn ES Highways stated that it is cheaper to patch a pothole seven times than to repair it once properly!” Perhaps the county council was trying to explain that resurfacing the whole road is really expensive, so they have to keep patching; it isn’t clear.
According to the data gathered by the LibDems, East Sussex reported 13,081 potholes on 2021/22. Trevor Leggo, chief executive of East Sussex Association of Local Councils, told The Times: “To get all roads in East Sussex up to a perfect standard would cost £300 million yet they've got £18.8 million per annum.” That would be 16 times more funding.
Given the state of the economy and the Government coffers, it doesn’t seem like highway maintenance budgets for councils will be boosted any time soon. Certainly not to the extent that East Sussex apparently requires.
Perhaps, instead of repeating the same stories of underfunding with the implied – but not quite stated - promises of more funding from political opponents, it would be more helpful to have a radical rethink of how we maintain our roads.
Could we take this opportunity to point out that a Thermal Road Repairs pothole fix is both permanent and costs less than a standard pothole repair? Since the average cost to fix a pothole in England is £50.17 for a planned repair or £73.49 for a reactive one, according to the 2023 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, and councils are doing seven temporary repairs using other methods, you do the maths…
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