Roddy Graham's blog: 2 February 2011 - The growing number of black holes
02 February 2011
Roddy Graham is chairman of the ICFM and commercial director of Leasedrive Velo
There's a black hole in the Treasury and many more around the country. And I'm not just talking about in local council coffers but in a road near you too, probably one every 120 yards or less to be precise. There are now estimated to be three million potholes in the UK. Last year, local councils were filling a pothole every 33 seconds and the bets are on as to whether that figure will be surpassed this year. Given the bleak financial landscape, I very much doubt whether that will be the case.
After the coldest December for 100 years, councils face an unenviable task of trying to repair the short and long-term damage on much lower budgets. The Local Government Association claims that councils will face an overall cut of £165m in their budgets for road maintenance at a time when our roads are deteriorating at a faster rate than ever before.
According to the LGA chairman maintaining roads to a safe standard for drivers is a priority for councils and they will be working flat out to repair as many potholes as they can.
In Northamptonshire alone, 18,500 potholes were filled as part of a massive drive to clear the backlog caused by the previous harsh winter.
Councils received a cash injection of £100m to their existing £871m highways maintenance budget for the 2010/11 financial year and have apparently already repaired two million potholes.
In April, the councils will only receive an extra £35m compared to £100m and the highways maintenance budget will be pared down to £707m over the following three years. So as climate change sees the UK face colder and colder winters, which will in turn see our roads break up even further, the road maintenance budget is being slashed by 23 per cent. You can just see where the conditions of our roads will be in 2014 and beyond. Buy your four-wheel-drive off-roader now!
Central government however chooses to ignore the hard cold facts, asserting that "in view of the last two winters we would expect winter maintenance to be a priority for them" (the councils).
Local transport minister Norman Baker states that government has protected day-to-day funding for local road maintenance this year, presumably only until April, and "will invest £3bn in maintenance over the next four years as well as spending £6bn to help local authorities make their road maintenance programmes as efficient and effective as possible." - whatever that means! Sounds like £3bn is going into direct road maintenance and £6bn is going into yet another unaccountable black hole to be squandered on this committee's deliberations and that piece of irrelevant research. Cash for the boys and not for the roads. Plus ça change.
As well as expecting road surfaces to deteriorate fast, expect vehicle insurance premiums to rise as well. Apparently, the average claim for pothole damage to a car is over £1300 according to the AA. And this figure may be not be true in real terms as many drivers decide to absorb the repair cost themselves for minor damage rather than affect their no claims bonus.
The AA received a three-fold increase in claims last winter and anticipates this year to be worse after successive bad winters and poor council road maintenance.
According to Kwik-Fit, tyres account for 55% of pothole damage over half of which were slow punctures, followed by suspension (35%) and wheels (32%). Exhausts and bodywork round out the top five areas of damage.
But worse still is the avoiding action that drivers now have to take to prevent damage from a black hole. Nearly four in ten drivers admit to having swerved to avoid a pothole, of which nearly half swerved into oncoming traffic! Hitting kerbs and mounting the pavement were also actions taken by drivers to avoid damage.
So we are all faced with a triple whammy - poorer and poorer roads, higher insurance premiums and potential accidents as a result of pothole avoiding action.
As an industry, we need to maintain pressure on central government to keep UK plc safely on the move and, more directly, to warn our fleet drivers of the hazards and regularly check vehicles for potential road damage. After all, none of us wants to fall into a black hole!
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