/ Motoring

Potholes: are you tired of ropey road surfaces?


Recent research by the Local Government Association has concluded that it’ll take 14 years and cost £12bn to fix all the potholes in England and Wales. But it does seem as though there are a lot of potholes about. So do ropey road surfaces drive you mad?

Being both a cyclist and a motorist, potholes have become a bane of my life. I’m either narrowly avoiding going under the wheels of a bus when I swerve them on my bike, or risking being rear-ended when I slam on the brakes of my car in an effort to drive over them slowly to save my poor axle, suspension and tyres.

Problems with potholes

Only recently, my cousin was complaining to me about the state of the road leading to her home in a village in East Sussex and how no one seemed to be fixing the potholes any more.

I told her the problem wasn’t just local to her: I had to negotiate them a lot more frequently in London, too. I then wondered (embarrassingly, out loud), why, if the road tax on my car continued to rise pretty much every year (so therefore must do for everyone else), this revenue wasn’t being used to repair the roads.

Of course, I was soon corrected: road tax doesn’t pay for pothole/road repairs on local roads – the town, city or county council does.

And, it seems, that due to years of underfunding and bad weather, the average council in England and Wales is facing a one-off bill of £69m to bring its roads up to a reasonable standard.

In fact, such is the backlog that new research by the Local Government Association (LGA) states it would take 14 years and cost £12bn to fix all the potholed roads in both countries.

Despite budget cuts, the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says that councils are filling and patching up more potholes than ever – one every 15 seconds at a cost of around £55 per hole – but has called for urgent longer-term investment.

In a recent discussion about bumpy roads and speed humps, one Which? Conversation Community member, Wavechange, called for action on potholes:

‘I would certainly join a campaign to get potholes fixed having required a catalytic converter shortly after driving over a pothole that was not obvious because it was full of water.’

The fact is, that while it may take a considerable amount of money to repair our roads, potholes are also taking a toll on our cars. Earlier this month, the RAC Foundation revealed that in the past year alone more than 31,000 claims were made to local councils for damage to vehicles caused by poor road conditions. Councils paid out in a quarter of cases, with the average settlement being £306.

The RAC also found that the number of vehicle breakdowns caused by pothole-related damage had more than doubled in the past 10 years. And it’s estimated that potholes cost British motorists £684m each year.

Repairing the damage

So what’s being done about our holey roads?

Well, the LGA is calling for extra funding – it wants the government to put funding of local roads on the same footing as main roads, and for 2p per litre of fuel duty to be given to councils for maintenance and repairs.

For those based in Devon, you may have spotted a clean-up operation on your holey roads with an army of volunteer ‘Community Road Wardens’ out repairing your roads. The county council is recruiting and training these volunteers, supplying them with the materials and equipment to fill the holes it can’t afford to mend itself.

So, what do you think – are we doomed to forever be dodging these perilous potholes? Do ropey road surfaces wind you up? Has your car been damaged by a pothole before? Did you claim the damage from the council? Would you voluntarily repair your local roads under a scheme like the one in Devon?

Has your car been damaged by a pothole?

Yes (53%, 415 Votes)

No (34%, 267 Votes)

Don't know (13%, 103 Votes)

Total Voters: 785

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That’s a bit of a challenge, Duncan. Better let him sleep on it. 🙂

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I thought the particle accelerator was to fire chippings into potholes.

These commercial quick-fill pothole machines should have a street sweeping machine in tow to collect the surplus stones. Or maybe an Autoglass roadside repair van. 🙁

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If the particle accelerator was one that Quark acquired from the Pygorians, you might end up with a planethole rather than a repaired pothole, and Autoglass might need a bit of retraining in terraforming.

Duncan, is your small crack small enough to be repaired? If your car insurance includes free stone chip repair, it could be worth getting them to have a look at it. They can repair a spider effect if it doesn’t get too big.

It could save you having to buy a new windscreen, and I have been quite surprised at the quality of the repairs.

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Duncan Smith says:
20 November 2016

Where do you all get this spare time from?………, ive been working since my last post on 15th Nov……
Can we start writing in French, Spanish, Swedish or German from now on, it would be more interesting or maybe you cant,,,,,,,,,aaah thats why you want Brexit lol!

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Motorists will all benefit from pot hole repairs so should be prepared to pay. Adding £30 to the VED for all vehicles would raise around £1.1 bn a year. Adding 5p a litre duty to all fuel would raise around £1.7 bn a year. That’s a quarter of what is needed.

Not all motorists will benefit. Only those who drive on roads with potholes. And I believe VED currently is far in excess of what it costs to maintain our roads. And mending all the roads in the UK would mean greater employment, more tax from the treasury, so more cars and thus more VED, fuel tax and VAT, so it would make economic sense for the government to commit immediately to repairing all roads everywhere.

We need to find extra money from somewhere to pay the contractors to mend the potholes. Some of the payments will be returned as tax so the £12M (£14M this morning) is almost certainly overstated and the tax take will help. But money needs to come from somewhere – diverted from other funds or taken from taxpayers directly.

It does not matter that VED is in excess of roads maintenance. I am suggesting that VED is a way of identifying a group where most will benefit, rather than the whole taxpaying population, so is one possible route for a targeted contribution, just as is fuel duty. However, others may have better solutions.

You see, I question the premise itself. When you say “We need to find extra money from somewhere to pay the contractors” if it were we who were paying for a leaky roof to be fixed, then yes; you’re absolutely correct. But that’s not how government works. I don’t fully understand how Government works in this regard but then I don’t believe I’m alone since none of the Government economists seems to, either. What I’m saying is that it seems more rational to commit to the work then evaluate the result. In a sense that’s the only way government can operate; the numerous factors involved in economies render it more akin to a chaos operation, rather than a finely-tuned plan.

‘Balancing the budget’ to me, anyway, seems more a phrase designed to keep the masses in line rather than a serious proposition for a national economy.

If it were that easy, then we would be building more hospitals, providing more social care, fixing the roads, and not having to make choices. If we think private finance initiatives are the answer then just look at how the repayments have crippled our health service.

Works requires labour and materials. Both need money to pay for them. Money is simply a transfer of wealth, but that wealth has to be created in the first place. Tax is where the funds come from and it is generated by the wealth creators – business and natural resources.

Do we want to end up like Ireland, Spain, Portugal Greece when the EU money was “invested” and then…………..not the underlying financial strength to follow it up.

Well, you raise some interesting points, and of course it’s far from easy. And I never mentioned PFIs in any way, because I suspect they’re the most dangerous concept introduced.

But in a sense you touch on the crux of the matter, when you say “Works requires labour and materials. Both need money to pay for them.”. And yes – in the world of us, our families and friends, that’s exactly what happens. But not with Government. And the examples you give are proof of what I’m saying, I think. Your example only works at the small scale: it doesn’t work at the Macro scale, because no one really comprehends how it should. Many think they do, some think they might and a lot haven’t got a clue and say so.

But your point about ‘wealth’ is the interesting one, largely because at the macro level it’s essentially meaningless. Governments print money – they create money and they own money. And increasingly Governments are not holding gold reserves to back up that currency. So essentially money is what other believe it to be; but it has little or no basis in reality for Governments.

Sadly, most Governments believe it’s right to preach to the masses using household economic models instead of macro economic models which, as we know, no one really understands ,or can believe any more. It’s not a conspiracy, more like breathtaking incompetence and stupidity. So let’s get those potholes sorted.

Printing money is no answer – as the Germans and others found out in the past. We also found the impact of real economics when we’d spent all our money on WW2 and were bankrupted, up to our necks in debt, largely to the Americans.The value of our money then begins to fall, as it depends very much upon what other countries think of our financial situation. There is no magic pot; unless we expect people to give their labour for nothing and someone donates all the materials we need. We have to buy in oil, gas, steel, timber, for example from other countries and they need it to be paid for. Running a country is like running a business – or indeed your family finances. If the spending exceeds the income you go bankrupt – unless some fairy godmother bails you out.

But you make my point for me. You say “The value of our money then begins to fall, as it depends very much upon what other countries think of our financial situation”, so it simply depends entirely on the imagination of the banker. And we know what their imaginations are capable of doing.

Running a country is nothing like running a business; that’s the fatal flaw. It’s a far, far too simplistic comparison. Spending in all the major economies always, always exceeds income. There are no exceptions. The US – the world’s leading economy has a national debt of 21Trillion dollars, rising at a rate of $10m per sec. Their spending has been exceeding their income for as long as I can remember.

You’re an engineer, Malcolm. You deal with certainties, absolutes and predictions based on reality and established facts. If you managed an Engineering project the way Economists manage national economies hardly anything would work – other than by sheer luck. I know it’s a lot to ‘get your head round’, as our colonial cousins would say, but I’ve been examining international macro economics and macro economics in general for many, many years – and the extremely worrying conclusions I, and many others, have reached is that Macroeconomics is largely an illusion. It doesn’t work as you might expect it to work, not just because it’s essentially a chaotic system but because it’s operated by people, and people routinely lie, cheat, obfuscate, misrepresent and change things without having any idea of what the outcomes will be. At least, they do in Economics.

And much as we might think Duncan’s imagination is a little too fanciful at times, there’s no denying that it’s primarily the great trans-national companies that determine how individual economies will perform.

As an aside government departments have been using the Household economics arguments to justify cutting budgets for health care, slashing disability payments and wreaking havoc on the lives of the less well-off for years, yet if I’m right they’ve been fabricating excuses to justify politically-motivated actions which have no basis in reality – whatever constitutes reality in the bizarre worlds of macro economics..

If we print money, eventually our costs increase in pounds but other countries will not give us the same equivalent in their currencies – like the rest of us, they’ll pay us what it is worth to them, or they’ll get the same stuff from somewhere else. So we lose out, and our inflated currency becomes devalued. I remember the aftermath of the last war when because we, as a country, were on our financial knees we could not afford to buy the food we wanted, or the materials, for a good few years and so we had rationing. I don’t want to see fantasy economics taking us back down that road.

Back to potholes? Perhaps we could give some of the jobs to those who are capable currently on benefits or in prison?

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I was actually saying there was something in what you’ve been telling us, Duncan.

Malcolm: I was born quite a bit after the last war, so don’t remember that period, really. But the problem is that we already live in an era of fantasy economics; how else would you describe the amounts lost or gained betting on futures, or the fact that no one not a single individual – has rebutted the chief economist when he claimed they didn’t know what they were doing, effectively?

Quite agree about employing the unemployed. Hitler did that with remarkable results; certainly put Germany back on a firm footing. Now, if only he hadn’t had such an annoying hobby…

I have been looking at the state of roads for the past two months and seen ample evidence that shows the need for a concrete edge on country roads to prevent unsupported tarmac being nibbled away when vehicles veer off-road to pass oncoming vehicles. Many roads do have an concrete edge that prevents this damage and having a slope of about 45 degrees allows the vehicles to go onto the grass verge without damage to the tarmac.

I know one road that has had annual repairs because of this problem and if I can take photos before repairs are executed I will send them to the council with examples of similar roads that have protective edges.

What is the difference between a pothole and a cigarette…..a cigarette has more tar
in it.

Many council are spending money designated to fixing roads and pot-holes on so-called road and junction “improvements” these include installing speed-humps and poorly designed cycle priority lanes (some far too narrow for cyclists to use) that do nothing to help traffic flows. There is a particular problem as speed humps vastly increasing noise and pollution emissions from vehicles and they even contribute to damaging of infrastructure such as gas and water mains due to earth-bourne vibrations. There are other methods that can achieve vehicle speed reductions in accident black-spots.

The Department for Transport publishes detailed design guidelines, but most speed humps are well outside of these guidelines, either being too high (the recommendation is 75mm) or exceeding the on/off ramp gradient, required to be no worse than 1:8. Similarly with width restrictions the distance between the kerb stones is often less than the advertised width meaning many people scrape their alloy wheels with the consequent environmental impact of repairs and paint. Personally I would prefer to see height restrictions instead of width restrictions as used in many retail parks as a better solution, or a camera based system that will ticket commercial vehicles using a route as a pass-through where this prohibited.

I think Which? should carry out an investigation as to the legality and pollution impact of these so-called “improvements” and begin a campaign to bring pressure on councils to get their act together on aspects of road design and compensation claims.