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By Sam Lowe
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National Pothole Day - There’s a bumpy road ahead

National Pothole Day - There’s a bumpy road ahead
3 min read

Shadow Transport Minister Daniel Zeichner MP marks National Pothole Day, arguing that George Osborne's 'Permanent Pothole Fund' does not go far enough to reduce Britain's 12 to 15 year road maintenance backlog.

When a woman came to me recently to tell me about her husband who had been killed when cycling and hitting an un-repaired pothole it brought home to me just how dangerous poorly maintained roads can be.  

Britain is suffering from a pothole epidemic and our local roads are – to put it mildly - in pretty bad shape. Since 2010 an additional 2,262 miles of local roads require maintenance work; to put that in perspective, it’s the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again. According to the Institution of Civil Engineers, a third of local roads are in urgent need of attention. While this impacts the safety of millions of motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists and other road users every day, the Government is simply not doing enough to maintain our road infrastructure and fix Britain’s broken local roads.

The Government’s record on roads is abysmal - funding for local road maintenance has gone down by 11 per cent in real terms from 2010 to 2015.  During his Autumn Statement in November, George Osborne unveiled his plans for a ‘permanent pothole fund’. He later stated, “Hon. Members may laugh in the Chamber when we talk about the pothole fund, but as constituency MPs, we know that the state of local roads and potholes is an issue of real concern to people.” For once, I agree with the Chancellor. The condition of local roads is a big source of concern and is certainly no laughing matter. But I can’t help but chuckle if Osborne genuinely thinks his policy goes nearly far enough.

This fund is a crowd-pleaser and a small step in the right direction in that it brings funding into a more coherent bundle – it puts cash for potholes in one pot. But it goes far from solving the problems faced by all those who use local roads. In case you were wondering, that’s two thirds of motor traffic and nearly all cycle and pedestrian traffic.

What Osborne won’t cheerfully announce is that the funding in the permanent pothole fund won’t be handed directly to local authorities to fix their potholes, but rather dangled above their noses until they jump through more administrative hoops. They must apply for funding through a wasteful bidding process.

Furthermore, this fund just won’t stretch very far. £250 million over the next five years might sound like a lot, but just last year an estimated 2.5 million potholes had to be filled at a cost of £136 million – that’s around seven thousand a day. It’s estimated there is a maintenance backlog of 12 years outside London and 15 years within London for local roads. The Local Government Association takes the view that the additional £50 million a year, if spread over the same 148 highways authorities as last year, will simply not be enough to catch up. One of Labour’s election pledges, on the other hand, was to create a £300 million dedicated pothole fund in order to fix Britain’s roads.

Every journey begins and ends on a local road, and it’s high time this was recognised. The Government needs to stop turning the funding tap on and off, get the show on the road, and fix pothole Britain once and for all.

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