Winter took its toll on the roads of Northumberland with a major jump in the number of potholes and other defects reported in spring.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act show that the number of road defects reported by the public and through routine highway inspections were remarkably consistent in the previous two years.
There were 58,571 defects identified in 2016-17 and 58,240 in 2017-18 (due to a change in systems, no data was provided from before April 2016).
But in the first two months of this financial year, there were more than 20,000 defects reported, with April (11,471) being the worst month going back to the start of 2016-17 and the only one to break 10,000.
Even the 9,390 reported in May was higher than any of the months during 2017-18 and all but one in 2016-17.
Perhaps this is not surprising given the severe winter we experienced, but if this trend were to continue, 2018-19 would represent a significant spike in the number of defects, placing additional strain on the county council’s resources.
However, the past two full years show that the number tends to fluctuate throughout the year, but not always at the same times.
For example, last year, the most defects were reported in January, February and March when the totals were around the 7,000 and 8,000 mark as opposed to 3,000 and 4,000 during the summer.
But the two months where the numbers dipped below 3,000 were April and December.
And in 2016-17, there were more defects reported in May, June and July than any of the months between November and March.
Other figures released via the FOI request reveal that the amount paid out by the county council to motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes hit a five-year low in 2017-18.
Between 2013-14 and last year, the general trend in terms of payouts by the local authority was downwards.
And while the grand total settled over this period, including legal costs, was £174,000, more than a third of that was in 2013-14 – £61,000.
This was followed by £30,000 in 2014-15, £37,000 in 2015-16, £26,000 in 2016-17 and just £19,000 in 2017-18.
However, these figures may not reflect the number of potholes or the state of the county’s roads as motorists can only claim if the authority responsible for the road has been negligent, while people with a legitimate claim may not choose to do so or be put off by the process.
What’s more, councils have a statutory defence in that they cannot be held liable for a defect they are not aware of – either because it has not been reported to them or has not been picked up by their own system of inspection and maintenance.
A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “The council takes the quality of road surfaces and repair of potholes very seriously – and invests considerable time and resource in making improvements to the condition of the road network and the timeliness of undertaking repairs.
“With over 3,000 miles of road, the county has one of the largest highway networks in the North East.
“The weather last winter was more severe than normal, with repeated freeze-thaw cycles taking place from October right through the winter causing significant deterioration of road surfaces, which was then been compounded by the extremely severe Beast from the East weather event.
“The county council has reacted quickly and is investing heavily in the maintenance of the network, our in-house teams are working tirelessly and are being supported by additional external contractors to improve the condition of our road network by the autumn, with over £5million being allocated to undertake a range of maintenance activity that includes more significant improvement schemes that represent better long-term value for money, rather than just patching and repair.
“This includes making investment in additional plant and equipment that will assist in improving our overall productivity now and in the future.
“We are already seeing the benefits of this additional activity, but ask that road users bear with us while we work hard to get on top of the damage.”
l The Gazette launched its Probe Into Potholes campaign at the beginning of March at the beginning of March in an attempt to improve our road surfaces.
The aims are raising awareness of the correct ways to report potholes – http://bit.ly/NCCpothole, engaging with our readers in highlighting the worst potholes and working with the council to help address them.
By Ben O’Connell, local democracy reporting service