Potholes: NI motorists receive £495k compensation

By Cormac Campbell
BBC News NI South East Reporter

Image caption,
The recent cold snap may have made the pothole problem even worse

Almost £500,000 has been paid out in compensation payments to motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes and other road defects in the past two years.

The figures, from the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), released under the Freedom of Information Act.

They confirm that between 1 January, 2016 and 30 November, 2017, a total of 1,935 vehicle damage claims concluded.

Compensation payments totalled £495,358.04.

DfI also released figures highlighting that in 2017 more than 78,000 surface defects were recorded on nearly 16,400 stretches of road across Northern Ireland.

Which is worst road?

Image source, Thomas O'Hanlon
Image caption,
The surface at Farnaloy Road, Madden, in County Armagh

The road with the largest number of defects (108) was a stretch from Summerhill-Cherry Road near Upper Dunmurry Lane on the outskirts of west Belfast.

This was followed by the Greenan Road (97) outside Warrenpoint and the Sixtowns Road (80) between Blackrock Road and Bealnamala Bridge near Magherafelt.

Roads expert Wesley Johnston said it would cost more than £1bn to fully reinstate the entire 25,000km (15,534 miles) road network.

However, with this year's maintenance budget totalling just £63m and with the latest cold snap creating new potholes, the problem looks likely to get worse.

"There is no doubt that as time goes on that the standard of the network and the surface of the roads is deteriorating," he said.

Image caption,
Compensation payments for vehicles damaged totalled £495,358 in the past two years - pictured are potholes at Sixmilecross

"It is getting worse progressively over time, because each year we are under spending on maintenance so that adds to that deficit.

"So each year another bit gets added to it. What we are really doing is creating a problem for people down the line.

"Sooner or later there is going to have to be some reckoning because we can't keep under spending year after year after year."

DfI confirmed its limited maintenance budget.

Image source, Thomas O'Hanlon
Image caption,
Darkley Road in Keady in County Armagh

"The 17/18 structural maintenance budget is £63m," a spokesperson told the BBC.

"In 2016/17 the structural maintenance outturn was £88m and in 2015/16 was £54m.

"Public safety remains a key priority for the department and despite a challenging budgetary situation, the department has this year delivered a significant programme of resurfacing and surface dressing and continues to carry out a programme of routine maintenance, including pothole repairs and street lighting repairs, to meet all essential public safety requirements."

The spokesperson added that there "is a balance to be struck between building new roads and public transport provision and maintaining what we already have".

"The Department of Finance recently published a briefing paper which outlines the impact of a number of future budget scenarios and we would welcome comments," they said.

"Any decisions on budget allocation will be for a future Minister for Infrastructure."

It was announced last week that DfI will receive £8.1m to support roads structural maintenance and the procurement of new buses by Translink.


Amanda Calderwood drives daily to and from the County Antrim villages of Broughshane and Ballyclare.

She said her car has had two burst tyres in the last week due to potholes.

She is frustrated with the standard of the roads she has to drive on.

Image caption,
Motorist Amanda Calderwood said snow means that sometimes drivers cannot see potholes

"I pass at least 10 to 12 potholes a day on my way to work," she said.

"You can avoid them sometimes but with the snow you can't always see them, it's impossible to avoid them.

Image source, Michelle Duffy
Image caption,
The Shore Road between Enniskillen and Belleek

"I'm out of money, I know I can claim it back, but I have been told to claim it back I have get out of the car and to take a picture of the pothole.

"One of the roads I drive on is the Colin Road in Ballyclare and there is no way, unless I had a death wish, that I would step out of the car to take a picture just to get £50 back," she added.

Image caption,
A section of a road in Omagh that vehicles have to navigate

Karen McShane, chair of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, said going back six or seven years the budget for roads repairs was £100m per year, but that figure has been cut.

"What we have is a £35bn asset and, if this was something that you owned, as soon as something went wrong with it you'd repair it and get it right," she said.

"The problem is we don't have any ministers in place to make decisions to move money around to allow us to make those repairs.

"You mention a figure of £500,000 [in compensation] - what is the cost of a fatality?"

Image caption,
The problem is not confined to country road, as this picture from Ormeau Road in Belfast shows

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong, who sat on the assembly's infrastructure committee, said: "The budget projections going forward means that instead of spending £100m we'll be lucky if we get £20m spent on our roads going forward.

"They're talking about turning off all street lights in another couple of years because we simply can't afford it - fixing potholes on rural roads, you can forget about that.

"We'll be talking about fixing only those roads that are the main trunk roads into urban areas."