England

Motorists take on England's pothole fight

  • 1 March 2011
  • From the section England
Image caption Thousands of potholes are being fixed across the country

Two harsh winters have created thousands of potholes across England which cash-strapped councils are trying to fix and motorists are tying to avoid.

Many people are taking action to fix the problem which faces about 30 million motorists and other users of England's roads.

"'When almost dusk and light turns grey, potholes greedily grasp their prey".

Pothole poetry has become one of many ways motorists are expressing their frustration about road ruts blighting their journeys.

The pothole poem was among winning entries in a competition run by Potholes.co.uk. The website includes a map detailing potholes and links to report problems directly to councils.

The site, set up by insurance company Warranty Direct, is among a handful run by insurers, residents and charities, which are dedicated to potholes.

And people are increasingly using modern technology to tackle an old problem, with pothole tweets, blogs and websites which send automatic alerts to councils.

Duncan McClure Fisher, managing director of Warranty Direct, said the "ominous combination" of a very cold winter, huge underfunding and "mediocre road repairs" had created the worst pothole season.

"It seems ridiculous that residents should be forced to do the job of their local authority, but when the matter is of such importance and it is largely ignored by the authorities, we are seeing more residents feeling forced to act," he said.

The government last week pledged an extra £100m to help local authorities repair potholes caused by last year's freezing conditions, but some councils have said they will still struggle to cope.

UK cycling organisation CTC said that via its website FillThatHole nearly 48,500 potholes had been reported to councils and more than 14,400 of those had been repaired.

Spokesman Alex Bailey said: "It places extra onus on councils to fix the problem because it is in the public domain.

"If someone then has an accident, the council could then be in more trouble because it can't say that it didn't know about it".

However, he said it was "working with" councils to solve the overall problem of increasing numbers of potholes.

CTC said the road ruts posed a "real risk" to cyclists, particularly if they had to swerve near vehicles to avoid them or if they went through a puddle which hid a hole.

A pothole mobile phone "app", launched by the group last year so people could report the problem using their phones, has now been downloaded about 5,000 times.

But increasingly, councils themselves are urging residents to report potholes so they can be fixed.

Pothole dossier

In Nottinghamshire, where more than 6,000 potholes were recorded in January alone, the county council urged residents to report them before they became a danger.

But in some areas residents have taken more direct action.

In 2009, villagers in Somerset sent a 12-page 'pothole' dossier, including 30 photos, to the county council calling for action.

In response to the report, compiled by North Curry Parish Council, the county council said many issues had been dealt with but it would continue monitoring roads in the village.

Meanwhile in the London Borough of Sutton, residents are working as pothole spotters to make sure problems are fixed quickly.

The active Belmont and South Cheam Residents' Association has long been involved in tasks such as organising an annual street festival and sprucing up the war memorial.

And Peter Mattey, the association's chairman, said some of its members were already working as volunteer "road stewards" with jobs such as delivering its newsletters.

Pothole spotters

The 86 road stewards, who cover 71 roads, now look out for potholes.

Mr Mattey said: "The stewards can check for potholes when they are going about their daily routines or may notice things when they are walking their dog or going to the post office. So it's not that hard.

"But it's an enormous help because it's quite a large area to cover and they are our eyes and ears on the ground."

Image caption Mr Mattey (right) said residents would rather take action than complain

Mr Mattey then collates the information about the potholes, which are graded on their severity, for Sutton Council.

Road stewards identified 89 potholes which needed attention during their survey in January.

Mr Mattey said he believed residents were helping the council rather than doing its work, while at the same time getting the authority to focus on its area.

"It works better for us and it gets things done," he said.

"A council inspector couldn't possibly look after all these roads by doing annual inspections. So this is much more time efficient for the council.

"It normally just hears about potholes when people complain about them."

The association has also been working with Sutton Council to get trees planted along roads under a scheme which has seen 110 new trees over two years.

Simon Wales, an executive member of the Liberal Democrat-run council, said residential roads were inspected once a year so problems could easily be missed.

"Improving our road network is a priority issue but with more than 200 miles of road in the borough we need people to tell us where the problems lie," he said.

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