It seems an unassailable a fact of geography that potholes will be forever gaping from our roads, and that British motorists will be forever complaining about them. In the latest episode in a long-running series, a House of Commons Committee report to the government provided a no-holds-barred takedown of the state of British streets.
According to the authors, led by the Labour MP for Nottingham South, Lilian Greenwood, local roads are the ‘arteries of prosperous and vibrant villages, towns and cities’. What’s more, these arteries are beset by a ‘plague of potholes’ which are ‘a major headache for everyone’.
Leaving mixed medical metaphors to one side, the report isn’t shy about the scale of the problem. Neither is it shy about the cause of it: money, or rather, a lack of money. Funding has fallen by a quarter since the Conservatives came into power in 2010. During that time, according to the RAC, we’ve had a sustained annual increase in the number of motorists. And, given that funding for local roads is not ring-fenced, most of it’s been diverted to other worthy causes like social care.
Who pays for local roads?
The motorways and main roads which connect British towns are maintained by Highways England, Transport Scotland, and the Welsh government. But the local roads which actually take us to the front door are the purview of local councils.
The report proposes many solutions, all of which involve spending more. But more than that, it criticises the sporadic nature of funding, which often arrives in packages which need to be spent immediately or be withdrawn. This is a lot like buying a friend twelve pints of Strongbow on the condition that they drink it all in thirty minutes: you can be sure that they’ll be unapproachable for the rest of the afternoon.
In the world of road-maintenance, money that’s allocated on a short-term basis is rarely spent wisely. After all, our roads are going to be around for decades, and possibly centuries; a long-term approach which incorporates preventative measures is a lot more sensible than a short-term one which concentrates on identifying pot-holes and filling them.
What happens now?
The government has two months to come up with a response to this report, which, if it comes, will arrive as part of the Spending Review. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has already flung an extra £420 million at the problem in last October’s budget. But when you consider the annual spending on roads is closer to £5 billion per year, this might not seem quite so impressive.
What do I do if I hit a pothole?
All of this might seem quite academic if you’ve had the misfortune to strike a pot-hole, especially if the impact has damaged your vehicle. You can claim for damage, provided that you’re sure to document absolutely everything and file a prompt report. Get several quotes when you’re shopping for repairs – and keep them in writing. The AA provide a pretty simple guide here.