Co Down coach driver counts costs due to potholes as funding announced

Potholes have been posing a persistent problem for road users, and for some more than others.

Figures released by the Department for Infrastructure show that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area ranked highest across all council areas for the number of potholes recorded in 2023.

20,080 were recorded compared to 15,214 in 2022. The council area ranked highest then too.

12,986 were recorded in across Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, a drop from the previous year when 14,916 were recorded, however, it still came in second place.

Castlereagh and Lisburn City Council ranked lowest, registering just under 5,000 potholes.

On Monday, Infrastructure Minister John O'Dowd announced an additional £1m in funding to address the issue.

However, the minister also revealed that he has £21m left to spend this year on our roads. John O'Dowd added that that amount is three-times lower than what's needed.

Sam Hughes knows Co Down's roads like the back of his hand. He has run Classic Coaches in Annalong for 26 years.

In February, he's already changed three tyres as well as accumulating other bills due to his coaches being damaged.

He told UTV: "We are struggling really hard with people on board the vehicles because when we're going down the road you can hear them saying, 'Oh my goodness we're so close'."

Sam added: "The last month now we've changed three tyres due to bulges."

Vincent Cunningham cycles with Velo Club Mourne, based along the Co Down coastline.

He told UTV that some fellow cyclists are now choosing not to go out at night due to the dangers of potholes.

"We have some brilliant lights that will show up [potholes] but a whole lot of guys won't go out, they're too scared because of the cut of the roads," he said.

In a statement, Minister O'Dowd said: "Repairing potholes is a routine operation for my roads staff who have been working as hard as they can to stay on top of the issue.

"Unfortunately, a number of factors has recently made the situation worse. For the last decade the Department has been operating in a challenging financial position due to British Government cuts and austerity which has had an impact on road maintenance activities and the overall condition of the road network.

"Add to that, the impact of climate change, with the wettest October in over 153 years of records, which caused severe damage to some roads across the North.

"This £1million investment today is the start of addressing the problem, it’s a statement of intent that I will seek out the investment to improve our road networks for motorists and cyclists.

"This is a positive announcement which will have a real impact on road users.  I will continue to press for vital funding to ensure our roads are maintained to a high standard."

DUP MLA and new Infrastructure Committee chairperson, Deborah Erskine MLA said: "The allocation of an additional £1million by the Infrastructure Minister is to be welcomed, but any motorist in any part of Northern Ireland will immediately recognise that this will only help address a small fraction of the problems we face. It will deliver only an additional £250,000 to each DFI section area across the Province.

"Recognising the financial pressures we face, and which will continue into the future it is vital the Department looks at new technologies which can deal with potholes more quickly and at a lower cost. That however will require initial investment in order to reap longer-time savings.

"The funding announced today is a short-term initiative and that is recognised in the fact that it will need to be spent within six weeks. The imperative for that funding must be to ensure that problems are prioritised appropriately so the maximum benefit can be derived from a limited additional investment."

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