Why tackling potholes is ‘a losing battle’

The number of potholes in South Gloucestershire has quadrupled in a year, leaving “embarrassed” council chiefs to admit they are fighting a losing battle and merely “papering over the cracks”.

Roads are in a dire state of repair but the local authority cannot afford to carry out regular maintenance to protect surfaces from damage caused by wetter winters, with country lanes the worst affected, councillors heard.

South Gloucestershire Council scrutiny commission was told the number of potholes in the district rocketed from 3,189 in April to September 2022 to 12,695 over the same period last year.

While repairs have also shot up, from 4,980 to 11,606, the highways team is struggling to keep pace.

Head of StreetCare Mark King told the meeting: “We have a declining asset and unfortunately the budgets do not match the amount we need to keep a level playing field with our highway assets.

“We did spend the money on our country lanes as much as possible but they are in such a poor state that we are papering over the cracks, if the truth be told.

“Other councils are in exactly the same situation. We continue to do what we can and try to mitigate the impacts as much as possible and address those urgent potholes and defects. I’m kind of embarrassed to say we have got a network that is particularly bad off the main roads, and our rural network is the worst part.

“It’s a combination of other things, of those wetter winters – water is getting into the surface and breaking it up, and we’re not doing the basic maintenance that we have done in the past.”

Mr King, at his last committee meeting before retirement, said that when he started in the service, the council used to carry out many miles of regular surface dressing which would seal it and stop water getting in, which caused potholes. He told members that vehicles, including tractors, were now larger and heavier and tore up verges.

Mr King said: “We try to get as much water off the network as possible, we do a lot of drainage work, there is a lot of investment in that. But when the fields are saturated and there is nowhere for that water to go, what we can do is limited.”

Cabinet member for planning, regeneration and infrastructure Cllr Chris Willmore (Lib Dem, Yate North) said: “We find it really frustrating but it’s heartbreaking for professional officers who have given their career to try to do things like giving us a decent and safe network to get around in, to have to manage on the sort of money they’re getting from government funding now.”

She said the previous Conservative administration borrowed £1million to fund repairs over the previous three years but not only was that money gone, the authority was now having to pay it back.

“So the team is going to have an even tighter job and the roads are going to suffer as a result,” Cllr Willmore said.

A report to the meeting said: “It should be noted that defects are a symptom of long-term under investment of capital in the local highway network. Budgets over time have been maintained, however network length has increased, and the backlog of work has also increased, meaning the money must go further and high inflation has also not helped.

“Funding limitations have also meant that works are not always carried out at the optimum time, making maintenance more expensive.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service