New guidance on potholes asks authorities to plan ahead

Pothole repairs being carried out to a good standard by Tarmac in Walsall

Deteriorating road condition is a concern for many people. A recently published ‘Potholes Review’ is looking to improve the way highway defects are dealt with, writes Leicestershire County Council’s director of environment and transport Matthew Lugg.

Three of the most severe winters in living memory have taken their toll on the UK’s highway network in recent years, leading to a proliferation of potholes. Local authorities and the roads maintenance sector should take on board new advice to make highways more resilient to further damage.

The new advice comes in the form of a ‘Potholes Review’ which has been compiled by the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme, of which I am part, on behalf of the Department for Transport. There are 17 recommendations which I urge local councils and the roads maintenance fraternity to take on board. But the key points to remember when dealing with highway defects are covered by the Review in three broad themes.

These are ‘prevention is better than cure’, that reinstatements should be made ‘right first time’ and that there needs to be greater ‘clarity’ over an authority’s approach to repairing potholes.

On the first point, councils should try to stop potholes from taking hold by planning ahead and spending more money on preventative treatments rather than reactive maintenance. Budgeting for a comprehensive road renewal programme up to four years in advance is one approach that should be considered.

‘Right first time’ seems like an obvious suggestion, but is often overlooked. Some local authorities continue to focus on repairing a pothole quickly with temporary material, rather than effectively using more permanent techniques.

But finding and fixing potholes in haste is no use if a roads maintenance crew has to return to site a few weeks later to fill the defect once again. And the need to improve clarity is all about an authority communicating its intentions much better with the public. They should be clear about what the strategy is for repairing highway defects and make sure that what is promised is actually delivered.

The Potholes Review does not call for more money for highways repair; we recognise that these are austere times. What is needed is for existing pots of money to be spent more wisely on approaches to road maintenance that are proven to work.

Most importantly of all, this Review has been produced by the sector for the sector. It has the support of many local authorities, highways maintenance specialists, respected transport institutions and road user groups such as the AA and RAC. This gives the Review a real sense of credibility.

And we are looking to incorporate the recommendations of the Potholes Review into national guidance so that it can help to make a real difference to the provision of highway maintenance and pothole repair in future.


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