Potholes: Councils get extra £100m to fix winter damage

By Richard Scott
Transport correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Councils face a similar task to the two million potholes dealt with last year

The government is giving local authorities in England an extra £100m to repair potholes caused by last year's freezing conditions.

Last December was the coldest on record and the conditions led to damage on many road surfaces.

Councils have welcomed the move, saying they received a similar amount last year.

But there are concerns that the overall road maintenance budget is being cut by more than £160m over four years.

'Journeys ruined'

In cold weather, water which seeps into cracks in roads can freeze, expanding and breaking up the tarmac still further.

Vehicles travelling over the surface add to the problem. Over the past year councils have filled in more than two million potholes following the severe weather in the winter of 2009-10, and they now face a similar task this year.

The government says that despite the tough financial position, it is giving councils an extra £100m to deal with the problem - the same amount as last year.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said: "It's set at the maximum amount that we can afford to deliver to local authorities during a period of public spending constraint to manage their road maintenance.

"Now individual local authorities have to decide how to use that money, as between patching up - short-term patching up of really serious problems in the roads, potholes and so on - and the longer-term maintenance programme."

Funds will be distributed in proportion to the amount and condition of roads looked after by each local authority, who must then publish information on their websites showing how they have been spent.

"Millions of motorists across the country have their daily drives ruined by potholes," said Mr Hammond. "I am determined to see the winter damage to our roads fixed as quickly as possible and we will be working with councils to make sure that happens."

"It is good news the government has responded to the concerns of local authorities," said Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board.

"It is vital that road maintenance is sufficiently funded over the coming years if we are to avoid roads crumbling into disrepair. This extra money announced today is an important contribution."

The problem is that road maintenance budgets are being cut. The Local Government Association says the money given to councils for road maintenance is being reduced from £871m this year to £806m next year. Further cuts take the budget down to £707m by 2014-15.

Compare that with the £9.5bn for England and Wales, and £2.25bn for Scotland, that the AA estimates is needed to restore all roads to perfect condition.

'Number one concern'

"If you read any local paper, potholes are the number one concern in the letters pages, and indeed John Lennon in the 1960s reading the Daily Mail mused about '4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire', so some things never change - it goes back longer than the last couple of years," said AA president Edmund King.

"£100m extra is welcome and if it was just used for patching up potholes, you could probably fill in about 1.5 million potholes - and there are probably two million-odd out there.

Image caption,
In the US, this truck has fallen - literally - victim to something beyond a basic pothole

"That's good as a sticking-plaster solution but you also need a longer-term coherent strategy of structural road maintenance."

Calling also for long-term increased funding, Mr King said: "In some areas some little roads aren't resurfaced for something like 75 years, and sometimes it's more cost-effective to bite the bullet and actually resurface a bit of road rather than fill in a pothole."

Pothole repairs are cheaper but much less resilient than complete resurfacing. That's because it is difficult to get a perfect join between the new and old surfaces.

It means that many potholes reappear, and so there could be more of these announcements by government in the future.

The Welsh Assembly has this month pledged an extra £15m for councils to repair roads and replenish salt stocks following the freezing conditions over the winter.

In Northern Ireland, winter damage to the roads has led to an extra £8.5m being allocated for maintenance since last October and an additional £9m in this month's monitoring round for the Department for Regional Development's road works.

There was "no doubt that the coldest December for over 120 years" had affected Northern Ireland's road network, said a Roads Service spokesperson.

The Scottish Government is making available to councils an extra £15m - three times the additional funds offered last year - to cover the impact of the freeze on roads north of the border.

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