A prolonged spell of wet and cold weather would likely see potholes develop at an unprecedented rate, pushing already stretched local authority road repair budgets to the limit, a motoring organisation has warned.
There has already been a “particularly worrying” rise in the number of pothole-related vehicle breakdowns in recent months, according to the RAC’s chief engineer David Bizley, who blamed the mounting legacy of insufficient investment in highways repairs by councils as they cope with government enforced austerity cuts.
A 24 per cent rise in the pothole-related breakdowns was recorded by the RAC between October and December compared with the same period in 2015 - the first annual increase for the last quarter of a year since 2013.
Incidents included damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels.
Rainfall can be a catalyst for potholes yet the rise in reported breakdowns came during what was the lowest rainfall recorded between October and December in more than a decade.
It raises fears that a period of wetter weather is on the way. Mr Bizley said: “If the first three months of 2017 prove to be both wet and cold, potholes are likely to appear at an unprecedented rate which would inevitably stretch local authority repair resources to their limit.”
Urgent remedial repairs are needed to cut the risk of further damage to vehicles or injuries to motorcyclists and cyclists, he said, adding: “It is insufficient investment in preventative maintenance, such as resurfacing, which is ultimately to blame.” A recent survey of almost 18,000 motorists commissioned by the AA found that a fifth would volunteer to fill a pothole rather than wait for a local authority.
AA president Edmund King said: “The state of local roads has got so bad that we now have a sea of volunteers to tackle an ocean of potholes. If we are ever going to get a handle on the situation, the Government must give authorities the tools they need to fill potholes.”
The Local Government Association warned 2017 could be a “tipping point” for tackling potholes.
It expects the cost of repairing roads in England and Wales to reach £14bn within two years.
Alan Mackenzie, chairman of the Asphalt Industry Alliance, said: “Long-term underfunding means that the local road network is deteriorating at a faster rate than it can be repaired.” The Government has committed £6bn for English councils to improve local roads over the current Parliament, as well as a £50m-a-year fund specifically for tackling potholes.
It is also set to trial high-definition cameras fitted to bin lorries to spot road surface problems, including in York.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones said the Government was investing record amounts improving and maintaining highways, saying the funds are focussed on relieving congestion and key upgrades “to ensure our roads are fit for the future”.