The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has called for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole. It warns that without such a standard, cash-strapped local authorities may move the goal posts in order to try to save money by not repairing smaller potholes.
RSTA’s warning follows the decision taken earlier this year by Perth and Kinross Council to redefine its classification of a pothole. The Council has declared that potholes must now be 60mm deep – an increase of 50 percent from its previous 40mm classification – before they are repaired and filled.
“Local authorities are under immense financial pressure. However, they have a duty of care to ensure that roads are properly maintained. This, they recognise and they work hard to meet that obligation but the ongoing cutbacks in local authority budgets means that that they may move the road maintenance goal posts in order to save money,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.
Although there is widespread adoption of the ‘Well-Maintained Highways Code of Practice’ this only offers guidance as to best practice. It does not provide a national definition of potholes. As a result there are differing approaches throughout the UK. In Gloucestershire, a road surface defect becomes a pothole if it is 4cm deep and 30cm wide. Neighbouring Worcestershire has the same depth criteria of 40mm but a smaller dimension of 20cm. In Bath, a smaller depth of 3cm is accepted as being a pothole. However, in Hounslow, London, a pothole will only be repaired urgently if it reaches 7.5cm. In Warwickshire, a pothole of up to 5cm is not considered to be hazardous and will only be repaired as part of routine maintenance six months after being reported. Potholes up to 10cm will take up to 28 days to be repaired. However, in Trafford a pothole warrants repair at 4cm in depth. By contrast, Herefordshire County Council “aims to record and treat all potholes regardless of depth”.
“The lack of a national pothole definition means that we have a postcode lottery of road repair as different local authorities take different approaches. There is no consistency,” said Robinson. “Under the Road Traffic Act 1980 all local highway authorities have a duty of care to maintain their road network but there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”
He continued: “A national definition of at what depth and width a defect is recognised as being a pothole would enable a consistent road maintenance risk assessment, intervention and repair approach.”