Probe into Potholes: A Gazette investigation into the scourge of our roads

A pothole on the road between the A1 and the A697 near North High Moor Farm.
A pothole on the road between the A1 and the A697 near North High Moor Farm.

As we head towards spring but with the cold, snowy weather still with us, we are turning our attention to something that riles even the most easy-going of Northumberland residents – potholes.

More than just an annoyance to motorists, they can cause serious damage to vehicles and present a real danger to the likes of cyclists, and without attention, the condition of the roads only deteriorates.

But potholes also represent a major headache for the local authority as county-council staff endeavour to keep on top of a problem that will never go away and maintain a large, rural highways network that was never built for today’s level of traffic.

Over the coming weeks, we will be looking at this issue from both sides in more depth.

At last week’s full-council meeting, the first speech made after the budget was introduced by the Conservative administration was by the independent Coun Steven Bridgett, ward member for Rothbury – and it was the condition of the highways network that he talked about.

“The single, biggest issue right now for my residents is the state of the roads,” he said.

“Some of the claims that have been made about investment in roads, that money would have been invested anyway regardless of who was running County Hall. There has been extra money put in, but the majority of that extra money has come from central government.

“I hope going forward we will lobby and we will pursue central government as aggressively as possible to get more money out of them.

“A recent report I have read from the LGA (Local Government Association) shows how much Highways England (responsible for trunk roads, like the A1, and motorways) and major capital road infrastructure is getting spent on it – £1million per mile while rural councils are getting £21,000 per mile over the next four years.

“The highways budget is something I’m going to raise time and time again because we had a report about three or four years ago and it highlighted that the backlog for the A-roads in Northumberland that we control, the B-roads, the C-roads and the unclassified roads was, at the time, somewhere between £250million and £270million.

“The money we are getting from central government is not even dealing with the problem we have now, let alone the backlog. We need more investment.

“And I make no apologies for saying this; just filling a pothole or using the jetsprayer is not good enough, particularly at this time of year, it needs to be a proper job, it needs to be a full resurface.”

There are currently double the usual amount of potholes on the county’s roads at this time of year, partly due to the specific freeze-thaw weather conditions this winter.

Coun Glen Sanderson, the council’s cabinet member for roads – who joked that he can’t hear the word pothole without waking up in the middle of the night, revealed this during a discussion about the Local Transport Plan for 2018/19 at last week’s North Northumberland Local Area Council.

“We have seen double the number of potholes this time of year than you normally do,” he said. “It presents the people of Northumberland with an annoyance and nuisance, but just about every other county has the same problems.

“We have found another £420,000 from county-council resources and been allocated £900,000 from government funding for pothole repairs and that’s under way.

“We appreciate it’s a terrible problem, but it’s because of the particular type of weather we have had this year.”

But regardless of weather conditions and other changeable factors, the real issue is the money needed for the thousands and thousands of miles of roads in Northumberland.

Coun Sanderson said: “The roads are in a poor state generally, despite the people who look after them, because we don’t have enough money to pay for all of our roads.

“If you think of the level and type of traffic in the 50s and 60s compared to now, what we need to get across to government is they need to invest in the roads in local-authority areas.

“We will continue to do what we can with what we have, but we need far more.”

Coun Gordon Castle added: “We live in the sparsest county and our combined council tax isn’t enough to cover our massive road network.”

One of the complaints often heard is about the standard of the fixes for potholes, with concerns that the makeshift repairs will not last.

Coun Sanderson said that other than where initial emergency repairs are needed for road safety, the council is using a new technique which involves replacing a whole square of road.

But regardless of the technique, it is crucial that residents report potholes when they come across them – log on to http://bit.ly/NCCpothole