Pothole repair performance sinks across Lancashire

Rate of pothole repair in Lancashire has fallen by a third between 2016/17 and 2017/18.
Rate of pothole repair in Lancashire has fallen by a third between 2016/17 and 2017/18.

The proportion of potholes in Lancashire fixed within 4 weeks of being reported has plummeted.

Figures for 2017/18 reveal that 64 percent of defects which were deemed to merit a repair were rectified within 20 working days - down from 97 percent a year earlier.

Lancashire County Council has acquired more spray injection machines to fill potholes than any other authority in the country.

Lancashire County Council has acquired more spray injection machines to fill potholes than any other authority in the country.

Highways bosses have blamed the combination of a severe winter and the introduction of a new system to manage pothole reporting and repair.

Member for Highways at Lancashire County Council, Keith Iddon, said he was “really disappointed” with the performance, but appealed to be judged in 12 months’ time after an overhaul of the system.

He was speaking at a meeting of the authority’s Internal Scrutiny Committee, which laid bare the challenge of rectifying more than 55,000 defects last year - almost 90 percent of which were potholes.

Members heard that the new Highways Asset Management System (HAMS) had resulted in multiple reports being received of the same problem and a “loss of functionality” in organising work which needed to be done.

Committee member John Fillis, formerly Member for Highways under the previous Labour administration, said: “We have more excuses than we have potholes in Lancashire. This is not just a deviation over the year - the whole thing has collapsed.”

Figures show that performance in the current council year has been improving from a low of 56 percent in April to 86 percent by June.

County Cllr Iddon claimed the new system - introduced in May 2017 as control at county hall passed from Labour to the Conservatives - had not been designed for counties the size of Lancashire. “It was very clear that the HAMS system was never going to work here. [It] should have fitted us when we got it, but it didn’t - so we’re adapting it.”

Councillors also drove home the frustrations of residents about how potholes are repaired - and the process for deciding whether they even needed to be.

The Conservative chair of the cross-party committee, David O’Toole, asked for so-called ‘intervention levels’ to be reconsidered.

“I have personally reported potholes and I’ve been told they don’t meet the level [to be fixed]. The public don’t agree with you,” he told highways officers.

Members were advised that a new way of working meant highways teams do now have the flexibility to attend to minor defects when they are working on bigger problems nearby.

And the meeting heard Lancashire County Council also has more of the latest road repair machinery than any other authority in the country.

Eight spray injection units - described in a council report as producing good quality results - are in use on the county’s roads. But councillors revealed the new method was not proving popular with the public, because of the tendency for it to leave loose chippings in the surrounding area.

“Within an hour of [the repair], I received so many calls and emails about the mess which had been left behind,” County Cllr O’Toole said. “Why isn’t it done on completion?”

A Labour member of the committee, Erica Lewis, described the current system for the public and councillors to report potholes as “a complete and utter disaster”.

Director of Community Services at Lancashire County Council, Phil Barrett, admitted that the authority had learned lessons from the move to an automated system.

County Cllr Lewis welcomed planned changes which she said could provide “an interesting crowdsourcing of the potholes which irritate the public”, but contrasted the situation in Lancashire with her recent experience half a world away.

“I recently drove 3000km in Australia and could count the number of potholes on both hands,” she said.

Lancashire County Council’s budget for road repairs is £13.3m for 2018/19. That figure includes almost £5m of extra funding committed by the Conservative administration last year, but the majority of which went unspent at the time.

Ways to fix a pothole

Excavate and reinstate - widely regarded as the most effective method of repair. It involves neatly cutting out the area surrounding a pothole and sweeping it clear of debris before filling the resultant square, preferably with hot material. Lancashire County Council’s Highways Manager, Ridwan Musa, told the Internal Scrutiny Committee that there was now a commitment to so-called ‘first-time repairs’. “We expect each and every repair to be done - if it can be done - in [this] way,” he said.

Infill repair - otherwise known as ‘a plug’. This method is used where the deterioration of the highway is so bad that no neat area can be cut around the pothole before it is swept and filled. Ridwan Musa admitted to councillors that plugs “are not as effective or enduring”.

Spray injection - a recently-introduced method described as “a rapid patching technique”. It uses compressed air to clear the surface and then to apply two coats of asphalt which are “blasted” into the pothole to seal the surface.