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Britain's Pothole Crisis - Tonight

Britain's Pothole Crisis will be on ITV on 8th March at 7:30pm Photo: ITV/Tonight

Whether it’s the slalom on the school run, the bumpy daily commute, or even the eyesore outside your front door, many agree that our road networks are a mess. In fact in our exclusive Tonight poll of road users, 75% of you thought the number of potholes has increased during the last two years.

With more vehicles on our highways, increasingly erratic weather forecasts and council's saying they haven't the money to repair them, is there anything that can be done?

Reporter Adam Shaw investigates in Tonight: Britain’s Pothole Crisis.

Daily Frustration

Adam’s journey across Britain begins on South Fen Road in Bourne in Lincolnshire, dubbed by one national newspaper as the worst road in Britain: potholes, craters, subsidence and dangerous verges all feature along this four mile stretch.

Tonight met local residents who were growing increasingly frustrated with the state of the road and the perceived lack of action by the council to address the problem. Local David Hurst told us the road is so littered it’s not possible to avoid them all: ‘The potholes are horrendous….you can’t avoid them if there’s a lorry coming the other way, it’s either the ditch or the pothole so you go for the pothole.’

Lincolnshire county council told us they are aware of the issues with the road and will be making further repairs in April.

Of course, potholes aren’t just an issue for in this part of the country. The Tonight programme has made extensive Freedom of Information requests of more than 400 local authorities to find out just how bad the pothole picture really is..….and the results are almost as unpleasant as the roads themselves.We can exclusively reveal that the 151 councils who responded with the requested figures received more than 700,000 reports of potholes last year.

So what exactly is being done to address the problem?

Tonight met local residents who were growing increasingly frustrated with the state of the road Credit: ITV/Tonight

What is a pothole?

Potholes are formed by water penetrating the road surface through cracks. When temperatures plunge, the water freezes, expands and causes the surface to rupture. And the type of weather we experienced last week will only add to the problem.

Of course, the pothole problem is a challenge faced by every local council, but not every council uses the same criteria in order to prioritise repairs.

What do we mean by that? Well the government advice used to be that holes measuring 40mm or deeper - about the height of two 20p coins - should be repaired.

But since October 2016, local authorities are advised that holes of 40mm or deeper should be investigated, and councils then adopt their own 'risk based' approach to potholes taking into account not just the depth but also it’s surface area and location.

Both systems give council’s discretion, but critics argue the new system increases the risk of future deaths, in particular to cyclists.

Government advice used to be that holes measuring about the height of two 20p coins should be repaired. Credit: ITV/Tonight

Serious Consequences

Whilst potholes can be a frustration or a financial burden for motorists across the country; for those on two wheels, the repercussions can be devastating. Around fifty cyclists a year are killed or seriously injured because of unsafe road surfaces in Britain.

For Ruth Topping’s father Roger, his run in with a pothole would have fatal consequences.

Roger Hamer, lead a full and active life that included daily bike rides in Ramsbottom, until one trip ended in tragedy. Riding along a local road to pick up Mother’s Day gifts, Roger was thrown from his handlebars after hitting a pothole, he suffered severe head injuries and tragically died in hospital four weeks later.

It was the most horrendous day of my life. To watch that happen to somebody who you loved so much, somebody who’s been such a huge part of your life.We’ve lost our dad, we’ve lost our granddad. My mum has lost her husband of fifty odd years, you can’t replace that.

– Ruth

An inquest into Ruth’s father’s death heard how - BEFORE his accident - residents had frequently complained about the state of the road and the number of potholes - including one which was described as the size of a dinner plate at the spot where it’s believed Roger came off his bike.

A police investigation found evidence the road was showing signs of deterioration months before the accident and identified three potholes near to where Roger fell - one of which the inquest concluded probably led to his death.

The local highways authority DID examine the road after the pothole was first reported but the inspector was criticised by the coroner for making no record or notes about the condition of the highway - and crucially decided the pothole did not require urgent attention.

The road has since been repaired.

But for Ruth and her family it is too little, too late:

‘I feel that there is absolutely no improvement whatsoever. And that is disappointing, it’s emotional and it angers me that my dad lost his life, 2 years later we’ve still got significant potholes, we’ve still got significant disrepair to the roads and the highways are still unmaintained and still unsafe.’

– Ruth
Ruth;s Dad, Roger Credit: ITV/Tonight

Roger’s family are taking legal action against Bury Council who told us they can’t comment on his accident because of this. But they say they are spending an extra £10m on improving Bury's roads, with a major improvement scheme due to start next week on the road where Roger came off his bike.

National Issue

The Department for Transport says it is spending money on what are already some of the safest roads in the world.

Local authorities in England have been given £6 billion for repairs - including a record £296 million to help fix potholes and stop them forming. But critics like Martin Tett from the Local Government Association, say that is not enough.

‘If you look at roads like we are in today, there are potholes along the sides, in the middle of them, some of these are just country lanes with a layer of tarmac over the top that need major resurfacing work ... and we just don't have the local resources for that.

Nationally we have calculated there is a twelve billion pound deficit in terms of what local government needs actually get the roads in this country into a fit state’

– Martin Tett, Local Government Association

And whilst, local authorities spent tens of millions of pounds repairing potholes and other road defects last year, Martin isn’t sure it’s being spent in the right areas.

‘Something like ninety eight percent of our roads, are actually local roads they are the local shopping roads, our residential roads and so on, and yet, government spends fifty two times as much on the big motorways that they do on the local roads. We need government to focus on fixing the local problems and not just fixating on the state of the motorways.’

  • Britain's Pothole Crisis will air on Thursday 8th March at 7.30pm on ITV

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