A damning House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report has concluded that motorist’s satisfaction with England’s potholed roads has plummeted to a record low, with fewer than one in three drivers admitting they are happy with the state of our roads.
Who is to blame for this? According to the report; The UK Government’s poor record on pothole repairs coupled with decades of ‘unpredictable and fluctuating budgets’ for road maintenance is wholly responsible.
The Department for Transport’s ‘ludicrous’ piecemeal approach to funding for road maintenance has made it extremely difficult to maintain England’s road network cost-effectively and is leaving millions of drivers frustrated. Compensation pay-outs for damages caused by poor road conditions cost £31.6million last year alone and with potholes costing £52 to fill in, rising to £70 in London; ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Road maintenance in the UK is massively underfunded. The report says that after the Department for Transport (DfT) slashed the roads maintenance budget by £1.2 billion over four years from April 2011, they have had to provide emergency funding on nine separate occasions for flooding and winter road damage, totalling £1.1 billion.
Committee Chair Margaret Hodge MP said, “There has been too much reactive work in response to flooding and other events and not enough focus on preventative work that is less expensive in the long term. The Department’s unpredictable and fluctuating budgets for road maintenance over decades have put value for money at risk.
“Whilst we understand the unpredictable nature of winter weather, too much road maintenance is inefficient because it is reactive and unplanned. Concentrating activity in the winter months is inefficient and costly. Some local highway authorities are far too reactive to events, rather than anticipating, predicting and preventing disrepair.”
According to the Department for Transport, the greatest problems are in London and the South East of England.
The Highways Agency, which is an executive agency of the Department, is responsible for maintaining the strategic road network spanning 4,400 miles including almost all of England’s motorways and its most important A roads. The remaining 183,000 miles of local roads are maintained by 152 local highway authorities. Public spending on maintaining England’s roads in 2012-13 was £4billion.
Potholes in the UK continue to be a long-running problem that cost tens of thousands of motorists millions of pounds in repair bills, and councils millions of pounds in compensation claims.
Local Authorities and Transport for London, in trying to deal with yet further rounds of budget cuts ignore the legal requirements of statute and in particular the Highways Act, at their peril.
There is good reason why these compensation payments are so large. Injuries caused by Potholes can be serious and life changing. In addition, the kind of compensation payments we see being paid out in pothole claims would not be awarded unless there were good legal arguments for the claims being brought in the first place.
Tristan Hallam is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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