The stark warning from Peter Sigee, the assistant coroner for Greater Manchester North, came after Roger Hamer, 83, died when he fell off his bike on a road notorious for potholes, according to The Times.
In a report to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Mr Sigee said that government guidance on fixing potholes will “increase the risk of future deaths” to cyclists.
Mr Hamer was thrown from his bike in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester and sustained skull fractures and a severe brain injury in the accident. It is believed he hit one of a series of holes that were up to 5cm deep, although the council claimed it was 2cm.
He died in hospital in April last year, a month after the accident.
Mr Sigee raised concerns over the actions of Bury Council and claimed a new inspection procedure adopted after the accident could leave deep holes unfixed.
A national code of practice published by the Department for Transport last year says councils should take their own “risk-based” approach to repairs.
Many councils only fix holes that are at least 4cm deep, despite a catalogue of accidents happening as a result of shallower holes.
In Bury 4cm is deemed as the “investigation level”, meaning that the council only starts to examine holes at this depth, with no guarantee that they will be repaired. The council told The Times that it specifically changed its rules on the back of the transport department’s guidelines.
Last week, it was reported that 467 cyclists had been involved in accidents at least partly caused by “poor or defective” roads in the past five years.
Richard Gaffney, a specialist serious injury lawyer for Slater and Gordon which represents Cycling UK, said: “It is very concerning that potholes as deep as 4cm are not being fixed because of government guidelines. As the coroner has warned, this could lead to more people needlessly losing their lives. In addition we see people on a regular basis who have suffered serious injures as a result of coming off their bikes because of faults in the road. Cyclists already have to run the gauntlet along many roads and these guidelines could potentially worsen an already dire and dangerous situation.”
Mr Sigee’s report, published on the courts website last week, said that Bury had altered its approach to road repairs in the light of a new code of practice published by the transport department in October 2016.
Previously, it repaired any defect “found to be 40mm or deeper”. Under its new procedure, 40mm is redefined as the level at which potholes are merely investigated. The assistant coroner said: “Defects which measure less than 40mm may not be investigated and defects of 40mm or above may not be repaired . . . I consider that the new procedure will increase the risk of future deaths, in particular to cyclists.”
Mr Grayling responded that it was “for local authorities to decide and determine the dimension of a pothole as the basis for their decision making”.
The council said: “This specific concern raised by the coroner is in relation to the new national code of practice which was commissioned by the Department for Transport. The change from ‘intervention’ levels to ‘investigatory’ is a reflection of the move towards a more risk-based approach for highway maintenance outlined in the code. It would be foolish to disregard the guidance.”