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Suffolk's crumbling roads and potholes sees taxpayers shell out almost £400,000 in compensation




A county council has been forced to pay out almost £400,000 in compensation over the last five years because of the state of its roads.

Suffolk County Council shelled out £383,041 of taxpayers' cash between 2015 and 2020 after 712 claims were made for damages and injuries caused by potholes and damaged roads it looks after.

The authority paid out most in 2018, when some 393 people won their claims and received their share of the £157,704 paid out that year, a Freedom of Information request by Suffolk News has revealed.

A pothole in Newmarket's Lowther Street, which has been marked by engineers but continues to get worse.
A pothole in Newmarket's Lowther Street, which has been marked by engineers but continues to get worse.

But in 2019 and 2020 the rates of compensation paid dropped significantly, with just over £12,000 and £5,000 paid out each year. This could increase, as some claims remain unresolved.

A spokesman for the county council said it couldn't comment on the figures, but added: "At Suffolk Highways we continue to focus our efforts on repairing potholes and despite a challenging year due to the pandemic, we managed to repair even more potholes over the past 12 months compared to previous years.

"We have invested in extra resource and work to repair potholes as soon as we can."

Earlier this year highways bosses outlined their maintenance blueprint for Suffolk's roads, which included plans to resurface 140 miles or carriageway, repair more than 20,000 potholes, and strengthen six road bridges.

Across the country potholes have become a multi-billion pound dilemma, and can quickly rise on the political agenda.

And in Thursday's local elections the state of the roads is likely to be high on voters' minds, with both main parties, Labour and Conservative, pledging to improve them.

But industry specialists have said it would require a huge cash injection from central government to sort out the roads - and much more than the roughly £23 million budget of Suffolk Highways.

According to a recent report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, based on information obtained from local authorities across England and Wales, it would cost an additional £10.24 billion - on top of the current funding levels - to get the nation's roads back into shape.

And it wouldn't happen overnight, either, and is a process which would take a decade.

Malcolm Simms, director of the Asphalt Industry Alliance.
Malcolm Simms, director of the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

Malcolm Simms, director of the alliance which advises local authorities and champions best practice in the use of road maintenance and investment, said the problem with roads in rural networks is they had evolved over time.

“Once they were just dirt tracks. Over the course of the centuries, stone was laid on top. As technology has come forward, bound layers of concrete and asphalt were added. But the original road itself is centuries old.”

A rising concern is that many roads are simply getting past their use-by date.

More than half of the nation's roads are in good condition, but 16 per cent are on their last legs, according to a report.
More than half of the nation's roads are in good condition, but 16 per cent are on their last legs, according to a report.

Mr Simms explained: "In general in the UK, from an asset management perspective, most A-roads would be assessed on a 60-year design life. That's the entire structure of it - from top to bottom - and aligns with government guidance.

"After it reaches that limit, it should be decommissioned, for want of a better word. Within that 60 years, there is an anticipation the top layer, the road's surface, will be maintained and replaced to protect the lower layers of the structure.”

The average life cycle of a road’s surface – the thinnest layer of the three-tier structure which forms the road from the bottom up – is around 20 years.

The average life cycle of a road’s surface – the thinnest layer of the three-tier structure which forms the road from the bottom up – is around 20 years.
The average life cycle of a road’s surface – the thinnest layer of the three-tier structure which forms the road from the bottom up – is around 20 years.

Filling in any gaps which occur doesn’t extend it, it just keeps it from death’s door.

"To simplify it, it's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge - it's a continuous job maintaining it from one end to the other and when you get to the end, you go back and start again," said Mr Simms.

The AIA's Alarm (Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance) survey was published earlier this year.

It revealed almost a third of roads in England, some 29 per cent, were rated 'adequate' - which equates to having 5-15 years life left in them. It also revealed 16 per cent of roads were rated as having less than five years' life left.

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