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Varying council policies on pothole repairs pose continued risk to UK road users finds investigation

Updated: May 27

Local councils across Great Britain show significant variation in their approaches to pothole repairs, leaving many dangerous potholes unaddressed, according to a recent investigation by the RAC and Channel 4's Dispatches.

The analysis highlights that out of 206 councils responsible for roads, 59 (29%) do not publish any criteria for pothole repairs on their websites. Meanwhile, approximately 35% of councils specify minimum dimensions—depths and sometimes widths—that a pothole must meet to qualify for repairs. The most commonly cited depth is 4cm, but in areas like Warwickshire and Nottingham, potholes need to reach a depth of 5cm before being eligible for attention.

Furthermore, 76 councils, making up 37% of the total, adopt a 'risk-based approach' to pothole repairs. However, this method's specifics are often not clear to the public, creating confusion and frustration among those who report potholes expecting repairs.

For example, the East Riding Council, which follows a risk-based approach, efficiently inspects reported potholes within 24 hours and prioritises repairs based on urgency. In stark contrast, Redcar and Cleveland Council lacks clear communication, with no evident online presence regarding pothole reporting or repair policies.

This disparity in council policies leads to numerous potholes enlarging over time, as they do not initially meet the criteria for repair, exacerbating the hazard they pose. The RAC criticises this patchwork approach, suggesting that councils may use size criteria as an excuse to delay necessary repairs.

In response to these findings, the RAC is urging the Government to mandate a unified, risk-based approach for all councils. This new guidance should include specific criteria for assessing potholes, considering factors such as the road's traffic volume and its use by cyclists. The RAC emphasises that a pothole's dimensions alone should not determine its threat level to road safety.

The RAC called on local authorities to enhance transparency by publishing on their websites:

  • The criteria for determining the urgency of pothole repairs,

  • The process following a pothole report, including assessment timelines,

  • A contact number for the public to report potholes deemed emergencies.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said:“For a long time, we’ve advised the public to report each and every pothole they come across to their local authority, not least as a council can refuse to compensate for damage caused from hitting one if they can prove they didn’t know it existed. But unfortunately, as this analysis shows, just reporting a road defect doesn’t guarantee it will get fixed.

“In some cases, councils state a pothole needs to be sufficiently deep or wide to be considered for repair. This can be enormously frustrating for anyone who comes across one, reports it but then witnesses it get even bigger and more dangerous as it didn’t quite reach a council’s threshold for repair.

“What’s just as bad is when a council provides no information whatsoever on how they decide which road defects warrant their attention and which don’t. In these cases, drivers going to the effort of reporting potholes have no idea at all whether anything will ever happen.

“There’s no doubting councils are in an incredibly difficult position when it comes to looking after their roads. Despite the promise of more funds from central government, the fact remains that the desperate state of many of the country’s highways is something that has been many years in the making, and there are no quick fixes.

“We believe there is an urgent need for Whitehall to provide fresh guidance to councils to bring about consistency when it comes to prioritising potholes and taking action to fix them. We’re also concerned about reports that some councils are refusing compensation claims from drivers who have damaged their cars from potholes, by stating they already have them scheduled for repair – even if that repair isn’t due for months.”


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