INVESTIGATION: Potholes compensation bill nearly doubles for West Sussex County Council

JPCT 07-01-13 S13020594X Pot holes. Park Lane, West Grinstead -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 07-01-13 S13020594X Pot holes. Park Lane, West Grinstead -photo by Steve Cobb

The amount West Sussex County Council (WSCC) paid out in pothole damage compensation nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, the County Times can reveal.

Last year the local authority forked out a total of £50,677 and 93 pence after receiving 1,118 claims from motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes in 2013.

The number of claims more than doubled compared to the previous year, which stood at 524.

In response the council released £26,435.

In 2011 608 claims were put into WSCC and £35,702 was handed out.

The figures were obtained via a Freedom of Information request.

This week WSCC has defended the figures and pointed blame at the bout of extreme weather which struck the county around this time last year.

While the number of claims has climbed, it said the average successful compensation claim value for pothole damage has dropped.

Last year WSCC repaired around 40,000 potholes.

A spokesman said: “West Sussex suffered badly from extreme weather, both wet and cold, during 2013.

“It had a significant impact on the deterioration of the road surfaces that year.

“At times last year we had 12 pothole patrol gangs on duty making the roads safe and between January and the end of July we fixed about 40,000 potholes.

“The average successful compensation claim value for pothole damage has actually dropped in two years - from £58.72 in 2011 to £45.32 in 2013.”

In addition to calling upon routine maintenance crews, three extra pothole patrols have been deployed to fix defects on the roads since the start of this year.

Between January 1 and February 3 2014, 2,125 potholes were reported to the county council and considered serious enough to repair.

Over the same period 4,117 potholes were fixed, with almost half of these discovered by the pothole patrol crews themselves.

County council deputy cabinet member for highways and transport, John O’Brien, said: “Cold or wet weather makes the deterioration of the road surface unavoidable in winter.

“We spend the rest of the year resurfacing and improving the roads in anticipation of this.

“We have planned and prepared for these problems, which is why we have made extra pothole patrol crews available to react to outbreaks whenever they appear.”

At the end of last year the county council announced a £30million spending boost for road maintenance.

The investment will figure in the county’s budget when it goes in front of the full council meeting later this month.

The money will primarily pay for improvements to the county’s network of unclassified roads.

These make up 55 per cent of the entire road network in the county, and include both residential and rural roads.

Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings), cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “I am delighted to be able to confirm that we plan to spend in the region of £30 million over the next two years as part of the Better Roads Programme.

“I did promise that we would be spending a significant sum, and I can now confirm the sort of expenditure we are working towards as we finalise our budget proposals.

“This is a really sound use of capital financing because there will be benefits not just in terms of improved roads, but also this investment will help reduce our maintenance costs.”

In November 2013, Mr Montyn revealed that an investigation had been taking place into long term plans for managing the highways network, in response to the many residents who expressed concern about the deterioration of some of our roads.

He said: “By putting in place a long term asset management plan that makes our roads more resilient, we can prevent damage, provide greater value for the taxpayer and make managing problems that are caused by extreme weather easier.

“If we make the extra capital investment now in upgrading road surfaces, it will reduce annual maintenance costs, and prevent deterioration.”

Over the last three years West Sussex has experienced some of the worst weather conditions in living memory.

Record levels of rainfall, along with flooding, freezing temperatures and snow, caused significant deterioration to the county’s road network.

While the county’s A and B roads, and minor C roads, continued to be maintained above national standards, the network of unclassified roads, which includes residential and rural roads, has slipped.

In 2009/10 only 12 per cent of unclassified roads across West Sussex were considered in need of repair.

In 2012/13 that figure had increased to 22 per cent.

Mr Montyn concluded: “West Sussex needs reliable and safe transport links to help connect people to jobs and businesses.

“Our rural and smaller urban roads have to be up to the job. Better roads do not cost as much to maintain and significantly reduce the outbreak of potholes after spells of poor weather.”