I was amazed to hear a spokesman for Keir tell BBC Radio Shropshire last week that the winter just past was “one of the worst in living memory.” Nonsense. It doesn’t compare with 2009/10, which was the coldest winter since 1979. I remember both.
We didn’t get as many potholes in 2010. That was because our roads were in a better condition.
Now far too many of Shropshire’s roads are at the point of catastrophic failure because of constant budget cuts. It only takes a spell of nasty weather, and that’s normal in this part of the world, for potholes to breed like a plague of rats. You only need to drive along Sheet Road to witness this.
My colleague Roger Evans has been probing Shropshire Council’s record on pothole repairs and claims. He has received a detailed reply on the technicalities. But as always, Shropshire Council is hiding behind the weather rather than recognising the underlying problem.
There are three reasons for the nearly 600% growth in pothole reports this winter.
The first reason is that maintenance of our county’s roads has been neglected for years. Many of our roads are in a state of catastrophic collapse. It only takes a short spell of cold weather for our roads to fail completely. Shropshire Council, and councils across the country, haven’t been able to invest enough in roads. They have also viewed cuts in road and transport budgets as a reduction in service they can get away with.
The second reason for the rise of reports is that the public has become heartily fed up with the state of Shropshire’s roads. They know that if they don’t complain like hell, nothing will be done. So, they are complaining like hell. You can complain here.
The final reason is that we have had just had a bad winter. But as I have said, not exceptionally so.
It hasn’t helped Shropshire Council’s position that the previous roads contractor Ringway couldn’t seem to deliver. Indeed, the response to Councillor Evans says:
“Towards the end of the previous contract the number of orders issued to the contractor were reduced, due to the planned withdrawal and cessation of the contract.”
The reality is that there was no point in issuing orders for roads and streetlights because everyone knew that nothing would get done. The graph below shows pothole repair orders issued in blue and repairs in orange. There was good performance in March 2018 with more fixed than reported.
In April this year, around 3,000 potholes were reported but only around 500 were fixed.
The speed of pothole repairs is picking up. That is because Shropshire is being bailed out by a £1.9 million government grant. The council doesn’t talk much about it having axed £5 million from the highways budget last month. It fails to mention that another £5 million will be taken from the roads budget next April.
Shropshire Council is very proud that it faces few claims for damage to vehicles from potholes – just 250 in the first four months of this year. Could that partly be due to the council not publishing information on how to make a claim on its website? It also boasts that it rejects 90% of claims. It has paid out just £64,000 in the last three years.
If you need to make a claim, you should email it to the chief executive, Clive Wright firstname.lastname@example.org. Several websites give advice on how to increase the chance of a pothole damage claim succeeding.
We need to keep the county moving. People need to drive with confidence that their vehicles won’t be damaged by potholes.
But while our roads remain at the point of failure, we are never going solve the pothole plague. We should be rebuilding our roads not just patching them up.
. The number of pothole reports to Shropshire Council in the four months January to April: 2015, 697;2016, 1,055; 2017, 928; and 2018, 5,274.