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Utility firms who damage roads while carrying out street works could face fines under new plans to tackle the country’s ‘plague of potholes’.
Britain’s councils face an estimated £12.6billion backlog for fixing potholes across the country – a staggering £61,000 per mile of local road.
The figure is up 23 per cent from 2020, while pothole related breakdowns reached a three year high last year, according to the RAC.
Meanwhile, Cumbria, Hampshire and Surrey have been rated among the worst counties in the UK for damaged roads.
In a bid to tackle the growing problem – which some have pinned on decades of under-funding – the Government is now aiming to clamp down on utility firms who damage roads while carrying out works.
The Department for Transport (DfT) says u utility companies will face financial penalties more easily for poor quality road works and leaving behind potholes under the new scheme.
It is hoped the new law change could prevent thousands of potholes and will ensure more roads are resurfaced to a high standard.
The DfT said this will spare motorists from paying out for expensive repairs such as damage to car tyres or suspensions caused by driving over potholes.
Utility firms who damage roads while carrying out street works could face fines under new government plans to tackle the country’s ‘plague of potholes’. Library image of a pothole-ridden road in Newcastle
Cumbria, Hampshire and Surrey have been rated among the worst counties in the UK for damaged roads, according to data by Fill That Hole
As part of the scheme, a new performance-based inspections regime will be introduced.
It will result in the worst performing utility companies whose roadworks fail to meet strict standards facing financial penalties.
The DfT said these companies will go on to be inspected more often by local authorities to ensure their work meets rigorous criteria and they leave roads in a good condition.
Utility companies are on average failing 9 per cent of the inspections that are carried out.
And the worst performing utility company is failing a significant 63% of its inspections, the department said, adding that the majority of companies carry out street works to a high standard and pass inspections.
The DfT, who did not name the company, said the plans will also help speed up broadband rollout across the country, through exemptions to restrictions on works for new customer connections.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘The plague of potholes is the menace of our roads.
‘That’s why I’m ensuring companies who create them and leave roads in a poor state can be held to account more easily – protecting drivers from unfair repair costs.
‘We’ve already invested billions of pounds into roads maintenance, helping local authorities keep their highways well maintained, and I’ll continue working to make sure all road-users around the country can enjoy the safe, world-class infrastructure they deserve.’
In a bid to tackle the growing problem – which some have pinned on decades of under-funding – the Government is now aiming to clamp down on utility firms who damage roads while carrying out works (pictured: Library image)
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh MP said: ‘The shameless Transport Secretary is trying to claim credit for fixing the problem he has helped create.
‘Last year alone the Tories slashed funding to fix our crumbling roads by enough to fill 12 million potholes.
‘He should stop taking people for fools and fix the mess his government has made of our roads.’
It comes as earlier this year it was reported that the estimated bill to fix potholes last year had risen by almost a quarter to more than £12billion.
The latest industry report, published in March, says a severe lack of long-term investment in road maintenance has seen the backlog of repairs rise from £10.24billion a year ago to a staggering £12.64billion – an increase of 23 per cent.
It now works out that £61,700 is needed to be spent for every mile of local road in England and Wales and it would take councils nine years to bring their crumbling networks up to scratch.
Top 10 pothole hotspots in England
Locations with the most public complaints about dangerous potholes in 2021:
1. Cumbria – 448
2. Hampshire – 406
3. Surrey – 399
4. Devon – 384
5. Gloucestershire – 281
6. Shropshire – 257
7. County Durham – 252
8. Cheshire – 245
9. West Yorkshire – 219
10. West Midlands – 207
Source: Fill That Hole
The astronomical stats were revealed in the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s (AIA) Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance report – or ALARM for short – released in March.
The survey of councils found that the average authority’s highway maintenance budget for the financial year 2021/22 had increased by around 4 per cent on the previous year, though the amount actually spent on road upgrades had declined.
The proportion spent on the carriageway itself is merely a fraction of total budgets available.
For instance, just 5.1 per cent on road maintenance budgets in England (excluding London) is spent on the roads themselves, down from from 5.5 per cent a year ago. In London, the proportion spent on roads is down to 1.6 per cent from 2.0 per cent and just 3.0 per cent in Wales – down from 4.5 per cent in 2020/21.
RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said the report ‘provides a sobering picture of the dire condition of our local road network’.
Earlier this year, the breakdown assistance provider said the number of pothole-related breakdowns its patrols attended in 2021 was the highest in three years.
Some 10,123 callouts last year were for cars damaged by potholes, which works out as an average of 27 per day.
Earlier this year Cumbria was crowned the pothole capital of England after new data showed it tops the list of complaints from the public about crater-riddled roads.
The North West county beat southern regions Hampshire and Surrey to the unwanted title, according to reports logged on the Fill That Hole website.
The dedicated pothole-reporting site is ran by Cycling UK and is mostly used by those on two wheels, but the findings will also suggest where in the country poor road surfaces are most likely to do damage to motors.
Potholes, dips in the tarmac and deteriorating road surfaces are among the common problems raised on the website, which then sends the information to the relevant local authorities to arrange repairs.
In the past 12 months Cumbria amassed 448 pothole complaints, which is more than any other region.
It was ahead of 406 pothole-related grumbles made about roads in Hampshire in 2021 and 399 in Surrey.
Completing the top five regions with the most-moan-about routes was Devon with 384 potholes logged and Gloucestershire with 281.
Taking a closer look at the Fill That Hole data reveals the extent of the craters, which some say can even be a threat to life for cyclists.
One, reported near Penrith in Cumbria earlier this month (January 9), tells of a ‘deep pothole that has now damaged two of our vehicles, one destroying the tyre completely’.
It also points out that the crater was ‘repaired recently but the repair did not last any time before it was worse than the original pothole’.
Another hotspot in Cumbria, this time near the hamlet of Parsonby, highlights another major risk posed by potholes – they can cause people to swerve and therefore put other road users in peril.
The poster described the two large potholes as ‘causing hazard on a relatively narrow and busy road. Cars/lorries having to slow down heavily/stop, risk driving through potholes or drive around by crossing centre line’.
In June last year, the A320 just north of Guildford in Surrey was highlighted as being ‘lethal’ in the bus and cycle lane.
The concerned poster added: ‘In unbelievably dangerous state. Had red paint around for a couple of months, but of course nothing (has been) done to mend it.’
Meanwhile in Hampshire, a ‘deep depression in the carriageway’ in Worthy Road, Winchester, was reported in September 2021 due to it ‘getting worse and dangerous to cyclists as well as traffic’. Records indicate the matter has not as yet been addressed.
Been hit with a bill for a pothole-related repair? Here’s how to make a claim for compensation…
Although there is no guarantee that motorists will be able to claim any money back if their car is damaged, here is how to make a compensation claim for pothole damage:
1. Collect your evidence: Make a note of the pothole’s location, the time and date you hit it and get a photo, if it’s safe to do so.
Then take your car to a garage for the damage to be assessed and get the mechanic’s report in writing as you’ll need this when making your case.
Remember, your case rests on the evidence you collect from the person you’re making a claim from so collect as much information as possible.
2. Who’s responsible? The next step is to work out who maintains the road as different authorities are responsible for maintaining certain types of roads.
For example local roads, B roads and some smaller A roads are maintained by the local councils in England, Wales and Scotland.
If you believe the council is responsible, you’ll need to prove they’ve been negligent which is difficult.
Asking for copies of highway maintenance schedules and reports of incidents within 14 days of the accident will help to demonstrate that either the highway hasn’t been properly maintained or that a reported pothole problem hasn’t been addressed.
It’s important to have the evidence which shows if the council had acted, the incident wouldn’t have occurred.
3. Reporting it: Now you know who’s in charge you’ll need to lodge a formal claim – see if the relevant body has a template you can fill in.
Include as much information as possible, including the mechanic’s report and repair costs and any photos you’ve taken.
4. Got an offer? Is the council’s offer acceptable, does it cover your costs? If not, go back to the council.
You have a right to fair compensation if the council or Highways Agency has failed in its duty to keep the road in a fair state of repair.
You also stand a better chance of settlement if the pothole has already been reported and the council hasn’t acted.
5. Offer rejected? If you feel your claim has been unfairly rejected, you can seek legal advice or make a case through the courts.
However, this could be a time-consuming process and is likely to be worthwhile only if the repair bill is considerable.
6. Claiming through insurance: If you have comprehensive cover you can claim for pothole damage on your insurance however it’s worth considering the cost of the damage as well as your excess payments and if the claim will affect your No Claims Bonus.