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The pothole problem: OCC’s response

May 10, 2018

At the request of a Blewbury resident, local MP Ed Vaizey recently asked Oxfordshire County Council to comment on the current state of local roads. Here is the official response from their Infrastructure Delivery manager, dated May 8th:

Dear Mr Vaizey,

Thank you for your email dated the 27th March regarding the condition of roads in and around Oxfordshire and I apologise in the delay in responding to your queries.

I appreciate that road conditions in Oxfordshire, and indeed across the whole country are far from ideal and share your concerns but assure you that the council is doing all it can to both ensure that the budgets that are made available to the council are used as effectively as possible and in seeking to attract additional funding from government and other sources to address the current shortfall in budgets.

Oxfordshire is not alone in maintaining a highway network in decline, with recent surveys showing that over 17% of all local authority roads are considered to be in poor condition. Whilst, the position in Oxfordshire is slightly better than the national average with only 13% of roads considered to be in poor condition, this still represents 362 miles of road that are in need of significant repair which we recognise is not good enough. It is currently estimated that to resurface all the roads that are in poor condition in the County would cost approximately £132 million. The council however, only receives around £13m per year from Government to maintain all of its highway assets including roads, footways, bridges, street lights, traffic signals etc.

With many significant demands on council budgets, and in particular those relating to adult and child social care, it is difficult for local authorities to significantly subsidise the money provided by central government for highway maintenance. With almost all highway authorities reporting a significant backlog of maintenance, it is clear that there is not enough money in the system to maintain local road networks in a good condition using traditional methods, indeed with the money made available to the county, the council is only able to fund approximately 15-20 miles of resurfacing each year. It is imperative therefore that highway authorities use this challenge to drive efficiency and innovation, whilst also seeking to increase the funding available.

The council therefore has to take a prudent view in the way it maintains its highway and to this end, the County Council has a Highway Asset Management Plan that seeks to balance the costly repair of roads that are already in the poorest condition with cheaper resurfacing schemes on roads to prevent them also falling into disrepair to prevent potholes occurring in the first place and the need for more costly repairs on those roads at a later date. This however, still leaves many roads where pot holes are occurring to which the council needs to react to ensure that the roads are kept safe.

The County Council has therefore also invested in a “Dragon Patcher” a couple of years ago and have recently introduced a second one. This machine is the first of its type in the country and is enabling the council to fill potholes at a cost of approximately £20 per pothole compared to the almost £90 using previous methods. This machine therefore plays an important role in allowing the council to afford the cost of repairing potholes that it may not otherwise have been able to afford to repair in the past and ensures that the Council is able to undertake the right repairs for each pothole.

The ability to fill more potholes than before ensures that the road is sealed as far as practicable. Water ingress into the carriageway substructure is a major factor in the deterioration of roads, as when the water freezes it expands and breaks up the fabric of the highway. The use of the Dragon Patcher therefore will significantly help in preventing more rapid deterioration of the highway network and ensure that the funding that the council has available can be targeted at addressing the backlog of maintenance that the council faces.

The Council works closely with other authorities and the Department of Transport both in sharing good practice to make all highway authorities more efficient and effective, and in informing the need for additional funding. I am pleased to say that the Government has recognised the pressure placed on authorities from potholes and has recently allocated an additional £2.7 million pound to Oxfordshire to help address the current problem with potholes that have arisen as a result of the poor winter. This will help extend the amount of proactive work that the council can undertake over the next few months. The Council has an excellent history of success in bidding for additional money from Central Government for highway improvements and maintenance over the last decade and we will continue to make such bids as and when opportunities become available.

Whilst this additional money is welcomed, it is still not enough to get on top of the problem within Oxfordshire and so we will continue to be seeking opportunities for additional investment and innovative solutions to undertake maintenance more efficiently to ensure that the needs of the County and its road users are met.

With regards to council investment in other schemes, such as green areas, whilst I cannot comment on the approaches taken by South Oxfordshire District and Didcot Town Councils, the investment that Oxfordshire County Council has undertaken in improvement schemes such as Harwell Link Road and Backhill Tunnel at Milton Park were undertaken following successful bids to Government for these schemes to help offset the impact of growth in the County, and for which the money secured was ringfenced for this purpose. The Council were therefore unable to reallocate this funding to other urgent activity such as road repair.

I regret that I am not able to provide you with assurance that the condition of roads will significantly improve in the near future however, I hope that the above has reassured you that the Council, and other authorities, are actively taking steps to try and address this issue.