Potholes bills increasing in North-East

Drivers in the North-East are facing increasing repair bills as potholes continue to be a problem on the regions roads.

A recent study by Kwikfit found that 220,000 motorists in the North-East suffered damage from potholes in the last 12 months.

Despite the number of drivers having to pay out for repairs, only 4% of motorists have received compensation in the last year.

Ian Muckle, from Shildon, suffered a damaged tyre and wheel rim when he hit a pothole near Darlington.

He did not receive compensation for the damage and he thinks more needs to be done to permanently fix potholes.

Ian said: “There are new potholes even after it rains these days, I think it is due to the fact that when the roads start to get past their best the council just skims the surface with stupid chippings instead of relaying a proper surface.

“They do this quite a few times and each time it soon falls into disrepair as the chippings lift off and the road is then worse than before as it is left with a bad surface and also now with patches of chippings.”

And with insurance claims for pothole damage doubling over the last year, it is difficult to see an end to the problem.

Ian thinks there needs to be investment in better technology to fix potholes long term.

He said: Let’s face it, all roads were laid a long time ago when there was a lot less traffic, cars had narrower, higher pressure tyres that did less damage and we did not have the amount of vans, buses and lorries traveling along them as we do now.

“As vehicle technology has moved with the times, surely road technology could be modernised.

“They must be ways to improve the construction of, and also repair and upgrading of, our roads. As a road tax payer you expect this tax to go towards the upkeep of our
roads but that actually falls to the council as part of their budget.”

Weardale councillor John Shuttleworth has long called for more money to be put in to improving the region’s roads.

He said: “We are in a crisis now and if something isn’t done about it it’s just going to get worse.

“I was part of a committee which looked into the problem of the roads in 2007/2008 and it was going to cost £150million to repair them in this area. It’s going to cost £215m now.

“And the bigger the problem gets, the harder it will be to fix it.”

And although he believes there is a lack of funding coming from central government, he thinks local authorities need to priorities looking after the roads more than they currently are.

“I think that it is a problem centrally but I think it is also a problem regionally as well,” he said.

“They spend all this money on firework displays and the Lumiere thing in Durham and they say that generates £4m for the local economy but I would dispute that because there’s no way of quantifying it.”

“Every other day I am getting people contacting me about the state of the roads – it’s a big problem.”

A recent study by the AA found that more than a third of drivers in the North-East had suffered damage to their vehicle from hitting a pothole in the last two years.

And the latest figures suggest that the cost of repairing the region’s roads could be more than £300m.

But despite the huge cost of repairing the area’s roads, Jonathan Isaby, Political Director at the Taxpayers’ Alliance, believes that the roads should be brought up to a higher standard.

He said: “Motorists pay tens of billions of pounds a year in taxes. They therefore have every right to expect that the authorities should keep the roads in a good state of repair as potholes can cause serious damage to vehicles.

“The truth is that motorists contribute more than £30 billion to the Exchequer in fuel and road taxes every year, with less than £10 billion of that money then being spent on the roads.

“For too long successive governments have treated motorists as little more than a cash cow.”

Despite the small number of people who have managed to get compensation for damage, councils do have a duty to keep the “fabric of the highway” in a good state of repair.

And last year there was more than £32m of compensation paid nationally, plus the staff time alone spent on claims came to more than £13m.

With the study by the AA also revealing motorists in Northern England and Scotland are the most likely to suffer pothole damage, there are some steps you can take to limit damage.

Andy Smith, AA patrol of the year, said: “It’s no surprise that drivers in the north have taken the biggest pothole hit but AA patrols report that as soon as you get off the main road in many rural areas, it’s like being on an Alpine mountain pass – you’re often in first gear traversing huge craters.

“If you see one up ahead, slow down and try to avoid swerving round it as you risk having a more serious accident.

“Regularly check your tyre pressures and look for any bulges, nicks or unusual tyre wear, which could spell pothole trouble. If in any doubt, get them checked at a garage or tyre specialist.”

Both central and regional authorities have said they will be assigning extra money to improving the condition of roads.

Local government minister Norman Baker recently said the government will be providing £3bn between 2011 and 2015 to maintain roads and pavements.

And several councils in our region have said they will be increasing how much they spend on road maintenance.

However, highways chiefs have admitted that the majority of the budget will be focussed on essential repairs.

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