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Pothole plague due to huge spending cuts

Has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including most of the world’s biggest bike titles, as well as dabbling in car and technology journalism.



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An all-too-familiar sight on the UK's roads


Spending on local road repairs has halved since 2006 leading to a plague of potentially lethal potholes across the UK.

New analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that the Government spends 31 times more per mile on motorway maintenance than it does on local roads, and based on figures from the from OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), UK spending in 2019 (the most recent available figure) was just 51% of the amount spent 13 years earlier in 2006. Back then, £4 billion was spent annually on local road maintenance, a number that’s since dropped to £2 billion.

As a result, the LGA is calling for all political parties to pledge a 10-year programme of investment in road improvement, to be funded by ringfencing a proportion of existing fuel duty – equivalent to just 2p per litre – to use purely on reversing the decline in road conditions.

When compared to other major nations, the UK’s spending on local road maintenance is particularly poor. At the top of the list, New Zealand’s 2019 spending was 178% of the 2006 baseline, with Japan, the USA, Austria and Korea all managing to spend more than 150% of their 2006 figures. Only five countries in the LGA’s analysis saw a decrease in spending, and the UK – at 51% - was on a par with Italy and only ahead of Ireland, on 43%.

Wherever you live in the UK, you’ve probably noticed the deterioration of roads. The RAC obtained data through a freedom of information (FOI) request this year that showed there were 556,658 reported potholes in the 81 county and district councils that provided a response. Since there are 185 councils in England, that number suggests there’s could be between 1.2 and 1.5 million potholes across the country, and that’s not including Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The RAC’s call-outs reflect the poor road conditions. It’s found that drivers are now 1.6 times more likely to need breakdown assistance due to potholes than they were in 2006. In the 12 months up to 30 June 2023, it’s had 27,250 breakdown call-outs due to pothole damage, with 18,250 of them coming in the first six months of 2023. It’s an increase of 20% compared to the previous 12-month period (July 2021-June 2022).

Cllr Shaun Davies, Chair of the LGA said: “The UK has fallen from the top to almost the bottom of the league when it comes to the amount we spend on repairing our local roads.

“Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local road repair budgets has left councils facing the biggest ever annual pothole repair backlog.

“In order to support motorists, the Government should take this opportunity to work with councils to develop a long-term, fully-funded programme to catch up with the backlog. Ultimately, all local transport decisions should be devolved to councils, who are best placed in determining what is a priority for their areas.

“This will allow councils not just to tackle potholes but make improvements to road surfaces, saving money in the long term and improving our roads for everyone who uses them.

“As well as this, we would urge all parties to commit to invest in our local road network at the next general election, which is so important to our residents and our business community.”


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Don't assume someone else has reported it… do your bit by reporting as many potholes as you can.


What can you do about potholes?

Spending cuts might be to blame for the rise in potholes but you can still play a role in improving the situation by reporting potholes when you see them.

Because local roads, those that aren’t motorways or A-roads maintained by Highways England, are looked after by local councils, there are differing policies around the country. However, by entering the postcode area where the pothole is on the Government’s site here you’ll be redirected to the right site to report a problem.

If you’ve hit a pothole, damaging your bike (or car), you may also be able to claim compensation from the authority responsible for looking after that stretch of road. You can find more details here:


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