Pothole challenge facing councils

Image caption,
Severe winters have caused problems on many roads

A highways chief said he fears it is inevitable there will be more potholes on County Durham roads in future years.

Durham County Council strategic highways manager Dave Wilcox said budget cuts and recent severe winters were creating a major challenge.

Councils on Wearside and County Durham responded to BBC Freedom of Information requests about spending on potholes.

Despite the pressures Sunderland, Durham and Darlington councils said road conditions were a priority.

The three Labour-run councils have so far spent about £8m on highways maintenance in 2010-11.

The requests also revealed tens of thousands of pounds in compensation had been paid out by authorities to individuals in the past three years as a result of carriageway defects.

However councils said more robust inspections and the prioritisation of repairs had meant a fall in pay-outs.

County Durham's compensation figures were £31,557 in 2008-09 followed by £353 the year after and nothing for the past year, although cases take some time to process.

For Darlington, the figures were £321 in 2008-09, £3,104 the following year and nothing for the past year.

Sunderland's figures were £15,640 in 2008-09, £6,716.97 for 2009-10 and £10,482 in 2010-11.

'Clear outcome'

Asked whether they thought their budget for the coming year would be enough to deal with road repairs in its area, Darlington council replied yes.

Image caption,
Despite the pressures, councils said roads were a priority

Sunderland said the condition of roads and footpaths was a priority and it had systems in place to ensure the maintenance budget was used for maximum benefit.

Durham said its highway maintenance budget was finite and the weather conditions may impact on its ability to balance demand with resources.

Mr Wilcox said he was sure the 28/29% cut in the highways budget would have an impact.

He said: "I think the outcome is quite clear.

"It's going to see an increase in the number of potholes."

He said the council was trying to make savings and efficiencies so frontline services were not affected.

He said in the very severe winter of 2009-10 it was dealing with 1,500 potholes a week at its height and the damage had cost £2.5m.

This year, there had been between 300 and 500 a week but the impact had been lessened partly because of £1m the council received from the government for repairs.

He said he hoped with its repairs programme the county's roads would soon be in the condition they were in November 2009, before the severe weather.

Mt Wilcox said it currently tried to repair potholes within 24 hours but that might slip to 48 hours as pressures on the system increased.

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