William Eichler 18 January 2019

Councils take ‘risk-based’ approach to filling in potholes

Local authorities are increasingly adopting a ‘risk-based’ approach to filling in potholes, a new analysis of council response times to calls about road defects has found.

Analysing data from 190 of the 207 local highway authorities in Britain, the RAC Foundation discovered that Flintshire, Cumbria, and South Lanarkshire councils act immediately to repair potholes when they are reported.

Harrow acts within 30 minutes and Coventry was found to have the slowest response time at five days, although the council has contested this finding.

RAC learnt that councils are increasingly considering the risk posed by a pothole when they are deciding on how to respond.

This ‘risk-based’ approach means that not only will the width and depth of a pothole be taken into account, but also the type of road it is on, the volume of traffic that road carries and the mix of road users.

Around 75% (142) of the highway authorities that responded to the RAC had already moved to a risk-based approach by Autumn 2018. A further 15 (8%) said they were about to move to the new system or were reviewing their existing practices.

Almost all authorities still set minimum investigation levels below which they won’t assess potholes, nor assign response times based on the dangers they pose.

Whilst 37 local highway authorities said they would investigate when a pothole was between 20-30mm deep, 26 others said the depth had to be at least 50mm or more.

‘It is good to see that the vast majority of local highway authorities are adopting the best practice ‘risk-based’ approach recommended by the UK Roads Liaison Group, which is putting the risk to road users front and centre alongside the potential for a defect to develop into a bigger structural problem,’ said Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation.

‘The total number of potholes being filled in might still be limited by a shortage of funding, but this approach at least means those that are most dangerous are fixed first.’

It is estimated that there is currently a national £9bn roads repair backlog, the result of Whitehall funding cuts to local authorities since 2010.

‘It is understandable that large rural authorities set themselves longer response times, simply as a result of having to travel further to effect repairs, but motorists might still be surprised to see such a wide variation across the country.’

‘Those particularly vulnerable to potholes – cyclists and motorcyclists – might ask whether the speed of pothole investigation should be based solely on the risk to users,’ he added.

The RAC’s investigation found that 16 councils, including Slough, Walsall and Sheffield, responded to pothole reports in an hour, while Leicestershire took 72 hours, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 48 hours, and Bournemouth 36 hours.

Neil Cowper, head of highways at Coventry City Council, said he was ‘surprised’ that the RAC said Coventry CC took five days to respond to reports of potholes.

‘We have a good track record on addressing road repairs in the city,’ he said.

‘In fact, in any situation where a pothole is a danger to pedestrians and other traffic users we act as soon as we can get officers to the site, which will usually be within two hours.’

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