With many of the most popular tourist hotspots, such as Cornwall, the Lake District and Norfolk, serviced mainly by minor roads and country lanes, you could be in for a bumpy ride riddled with potholes if you venture into the countryside this summer. But is the problem as big as it seems? And should we look abroad for a smoother ride?
In Britain, potholes cause around a third of all recorded vehicle damage, including buckled wheels, cracks, lumps in the tyre and cracked alloys, costing motorists an estimated £730 million every year.
Potholes were a major concern for 41% of motorists in 2014 – up from 36% in 2013. Drivers feel so strongly about the condition of the UK’s roads that a third would willingly pay more motoring tax if the additional funds generated were ring-fenced to go back into improving local roads. Could this frustration be reflected in this summer’s holiday habits with more driving holidays being taken abroad than in our own seaside towns and country retreats? Time will tell.
Country road risks
The Local Government Association (LGA) says that poor winters plus funding cuts have left many councils unable to properly maintain their rural roads.
In 2014, Cornwall Council said it was “starved of resources” and had to consider ending maintenance work underway on its rural roads. In a region that is hugely dependent on its rural road network, this could cause serious problems for motorists – especially in the summer when tourists come from far and wide. So ‘patched-up’ potholes and unmaintained stretches of road are something that any driver, not just holidaymakers, need to keep a sharp eye out for in the countryside.
Should we opt for foreign roads instead?
In 2014, Spain was the top destination for UK residents visiting abroad, accounting for 12.2 million visits, a 5.4% increase from the previous year – although many Brits prefer to fly to the Costas, there will be a large number choosing to drive or hire a car to explore the region. But if one of your reasons for heading abroad is the quality of the roads, you might want to think again because it turns out that over a third of roads have potholes too. Elsewhere, the state of the roads in Rome is a daily danger to motorists, as it’s been reported they’re often crumbling and pockmarked with large holes.
On the other hand, France – then the UK’s number one overseas driving destination – has invested hugely in its road network, having built 2,700 miles of new motorway since 1990. That’s more than the entire UK motorway network put together! Of course there will be roads in need of repair and quality will vary greatly from region to region but if you were to stick to the main routes, you might be in for a very pleasant and smooth journey.
Smoother summers ahead
If you’ve got a favourite UK holiday destination that you visit year after year, you might find that your route is a little less rough. The previous government already established a Pothole Repair Fund to help fill more than 3 million potholes but with the Conservative’s in power, motorists should see 18 million repaired nationwide between 2015 and 2021.
In a House of Commons meeting, the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin reiterated this investment:
“Potholes are a menace to all road users and that is why this Government are taking action. I announced in December 2014 that we are allocating just under £6 billion for councils in England to tackle potholes and improve local road conditions over the next six years. This funding is on top of the £4.7 billion we have provided since 2010.”
RAC chief engineer, David Bizley commented: “Estimates by the Asphalt Industry Alliance suggest a one-off investment of £12 billion is needed in England to deal with the backlog in road maintenance, the majority of which is associated with those roads for which local authorities are responsible.
“The Government deserves credit for their bold actions to develop and fund an investment strategy for the strategic road network. But unless equally bold actions are taken on local roads, we risk a two-tier network with strategic roads capable of supporting economic growth but with a crumbling local road infrastructure.”
It would seem that potholes are a European epidemic, perhaps even a global one. So it’s almost certainly not worth heading abroad just for the sake of an easy drive. When driving down country lanes and unfamiliar roads, slow down and keep your distance so you can see what’s coming up. And make sure your breakdown cover is up-to-date just in case the worst should happen.