Northumberland tops national list for number of potholes repaired

Pothole patching in Northumberland.Pothole patching in Northumberland.
Pothole patching in Northumberland.
Northumberland filled in more potholes last year than any other council in the country.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have shown that the local authority repaired 69,506 potholes in 2018 – 14,633 more than the next best performing council, Lincolnshire, and more than double the number filled by the fifth best, Oxfordshire.

Council leader Peter Jackson thanked fellow councillors, staff and residents for the excellent performance on its more than 3,000-mile road network.

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“When we took control of the council in May 2017, we promised to fix the county’s roads and we are delivering on that promise,” he said. “But it has only been possible thanks to a number of factors.

“We are thankful to local people reporting any potholes to councillors or directly to the council and we are also thankful to the excellent and efficient way our workers repair the holes as soon as possible.

“And we must also thank the Government for providing the funding to enable us to get out to fix so many problems. Without the funding, our roads would be in a much worse state.

“We know there are still potholes on our county’s roads and we will continue to work hard until every single one is repaired.”

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The council is also trialling new methods of road repairs using recycled plastics, which so far have used the equivalent of 20,000 supermarket plastic bags.

But the Labour group’s new leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, said: “I would expect Northumberland County Council to repair more potholes than most councils due to the size of the county.

“However, it is a shame that the spending on roads is not spread more equitably across the county. A recent FOI request confirmed that this year’s Local Transport Plan is another example of this administration’s policy of targeting taxpayers’ money on the parts of the county represented by Conservative MPs and councillors at the expense of the more populated areas who have Labour representatives.

“Not only is there an imbalance in investment between the north/west and the south-east of the county, but there is an imbalance within the south-east, with greater investment in those wards with Conservative and Independent councillors than those with Labour councillors.”

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Coun Scott Dickinson, Labour’s new deputy leader, added: “We welcome any improvements to Northumberland roads and acknowledge the work carried on by the highways teams, following the last Labour administration investing in the most modern equipment available to authorities.

“What does sadden us is the amount of private companies hired in and the selection of areas for improvements, where clearly the only focus has been Tory areas.”

Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, said: "I think it is a bit rich of the Conservatives to claim victory over potholes when some of our estate roads are like pothole city.

"I would remind the current administration that the Labour party claimed they would fix every pothole by the end of 2015 and were proved wrong. Potholes will always be with as us, just like the wild political claims about their demise. What we need is a proper programme of road stewardship including gully cleaning and verge maintenance.

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"Potholes are a symptom of a much bigger problem of under-investment in our vital infrastructure over many years; instead of playing the blame game, we should be working together to press central government for a properly funded programme of road renewal across Northumberland."

The data was revealed by the Conservatives, who claim that FOI requests to every council in the country show that Tory administrations filled more than 740,000 potholes in the last year, compared to just 290,000 by Labour councils over the same period.

However, these figures don’t include any context such as the size of the road network in each council area or how many potholes were reported.

Labour-controlled Harlow Council was highlighted as filling in the fewest potholes in 2018 – just 24, but, in an article on the New Civil Engineer website, a spokesman for the authority explained that as a district council, it is not the highways authority and therefore not responsible for maintaining the area’s highway network, Essex County Council is.

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At the time, a county council spokeswoman said: “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 compounded by the extremely severe Beast from the East weather event.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service