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Hole lot of trouble for motorists

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

The sickening crunch of rubber on crumbled Tarmac and the stomach-lurching drop are something every driver will have experienced.

Potholes are wrecking roads like never before – a result of a string of harsh winters.

Councils, with their funding under unprecedented pressure, are now holding out hope for extra cash to do something about them.

The government has just pledged £103.5 million to help local authorities across the country pay for road repairs, but not yet broken down how much each will get.

"I hope it's not just for the areas hit by flooding," says Councillor Adrian Andrew, who oversees transport at Walsall Council. They obviously need it but so do we.

"This winter was not as harsh as some of the others we've had in recent years. But there was a lot of rain and there were days when it froze, and it's the constant freezing and thawing that adds to the problem of potholes."

Britain's climate makes it especially susceptible to potholes caused by water expanding as it freezes before melting.

The money being handed out by the government also includes a further £80m for the roads which have been most damaged by the severe weather.

This is in addition to almost £900 million already made available for road maintenance this year, bringing total government investment allocated to more than £1 billion in 2013 to 2014.

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Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who cut his political teeth as a councillor in Cannock and used to work in the mines, said: "Having the right infrastructure in place to support businesses and hardworking people is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan.

"This extra money will help make a real difference to the millions of road users and local residents who rely on local roads, giving them safer and smoother journeys."

But potholes are an expensive business. Wolverhampton City Council alone has had more than 300 to deal with over the winter.

This comes at a time when it is having to begin making £123 million of cuts and axing 2,000 jobs following cuts to its government grants. Other councils are facing the same challenges – shrinking budgets but growing demands. And when councils are not quick enough to repair the potholes, they end up forking out for compensation.

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Sandwell Council paid out £14,000 in 2011/12 to people whose property was damaged because of them. Last year, Staffordshire County Council had a blitz on winter-damaged highways with £500,000 to tackle the worst-hit areas.

Within the first few months of the year, 4,500 potholes had been repaired, compared to around 2,900 in the same period in 2012.

Even so, it is a never ending battle.

Dudley councillor Khurshid Ahmed, cabinet member for transportation, said: "While the winter has not been as harsh this year in terms of freezing conditions we have had the wettest winter in over 100 years and more than 30 nights of frost which has again caused significant issues in relation to damaged road surfaces.

"The number of potholes being reported on Dudley borough roads is similar to this time last year.

"Given the severe financial pressures on council budgets we welcome any additional funding support to help us maintain Dudley borough's highway network."

Councillor Andrew says he understands the need for people to claim compensation, but says it adds to councils' pressures. People pay their council tax and they rightly expect us to make sure the roads are repaired. If their cars have been damaged then they will be making a claim."

Walsall now has two machines, purchased almost three years ago, to make permanent repairs to road surfaces. "It means we've drastically reduced the 'return rate', where we'd have to go back and do the job again," said Councillor Andrews.

Potholes are such a nuisance that there is even a lobby group set up to help people claim compensation.

The website potholes.co.uk features a map where people can give details of problem roads.

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