One of Witney
One of Witney's many potholes fixed following Cllr Coles' intervention


Over the last decade our roads, footpaths and cycleways have deteriorated to the extent that the dire state of Witney’s potholed roads was cited as one of the top three major issues by residents in recent campaign visits by Labour candidates. First-hand reports of damage to residents’ vehicles mostly cars, vans, motorcycles and bicycles, along with pedestrian falls were the norm rather than the exception during these doorstep conversations. Cyclists falling off and pedestrians tripping over cause real injury and in some cases require medical attention putting further pressure on the already cash-starved NHS.  Loss of income having to seek medical attention or time off the road having damage repaired is significant. And, it goes without saying that repairing damage is also costly and inconvenient.

Why has it come to this?

Quite simply it is a consequence of the misguided austerity policies of the Tory and Lib Dems’ coalition government of 2010 along with subsequent Tory governments. Over the past fourteen years, these flawed policies have consistently starved local authorities and the Highways England of the funding they need to maintain a road infrastructure befitting a modern globalised economy. Our patched road network is an embarrassment and is symptomatic of a make-do-and-mend whilst we enrich our friends attitude of the Conservatives.

What will it take to fix?

The AIA’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey report 2023 highlighted that £14.02 billion is needed to bring our roads up to a condition that would allow them to be managed cost effectively going forward as part of a proactive management approach. This year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey Report, now tells us that more than half the local road network is reported as having 15 years or less of structural life remaining, and that £16.3 billion is now needed to tackle the backlog of carriageway repairs, the highest figure in 29 years of reporting, and will take 11 years to complete. For the record, the average cost of patching a pothole across all regions is £72.26.
Alarmingly, pothole repairs are lasting just a few weeks before they require repairing again, meaning a single pothole may be repaired several times a year which is grossly wasteful.

What does this mean for us?

Poor highway conditions impact on our everyday lives. The most obvious being costly damage to vehicles, as well an increased risk of accidents and serious injury, and even deaths, to vulnerable road users such as cyclists, the mobility impaired, and children. There are further less obvious consequences of poorly maintained roads. The chance of collision with other road users through late braking and swerving to avoid potholes in increased. The level of airborne pollutants from vehicle exhausts, brakes and tyres through modified driving style is higher too. Funding the cost of compensation claims means reduced funding for other services such as social services, environmental budgets, fire and rescue services or otherwise increasing council tax.

What will Labour do about this?

The honest answer is as much as it can afford to but the damage the Conservatives have done means it is probably going to take a decade of investment in real terms to put right. Through strategic planning, prioritisation and efficient utilisation of resources, a Labour government will invest in a modern transport infrastructure that meets Britain’s present and future needs to stop the present decline back to the hazardous rutted mud tracks of the 18th Century.
Councillor Duncan Enright with national campaigner Mark Morrell aka
Councillor Duncan Enright with national campaigner Mark Morrell aka'Mr Pothole'

Councillor Duncan Enright walks his area reporting potholes and pavement greenery on a regular basis, and ran a ‘sponsored run’ to highlight the problem with potholes, leading to some improvement (though they come back every winter!) He is pictured with national campaigner, Mark Morrell or ‘Mr Pothole’ as he has become known.

He continued “Oxfordshire County Council only gets a third of what is needed to fix potholes from central government, and is forced borrows another third. Even with extra cash in this year’s budget we are not funded by the Government to do the job people rightly expect – after harsh cold snaps last winter our crews are working valiantly to fix our roads, but we need a change of government to do the job properly, not Conservative cuts and austerity. According to the Pothole Tracker Survey (commissioned by KwikFit) the cost of pothole damage to British drivers and riders is calculated at £1.7 billion in 2022, up 35% from the previous year. And then there’s the personal and financial costs (eg to the NHS) when cyclists and motorcyclists have been unnecessarily injured crashing into potholes.”

Labour has pledged to move to multi-year funding settlements to help local authorities plan better and ensure money is directed to the areas in most need. Potholes are damaging cars and slowing down journeys, and in the end, individual drivers and their families have to pick up the tab for repairs.

Councillor Andrew Coles (Witney Central) says “I’m really pleased that 3 horrendous pot holes I reported, and have been monitoring, on Smiths estate – 2 on Fettiplace Road and 1 on Windrush Valley Road – have at last been repaired this week. A massive relief to everyone. I will always speak up for my community and help get things done. In 2010, your Labour government was spending approximately £4 billion a year to keep our roads in good order. As soon as the Tory/LibDem coalition came in they cut that. The Conservative government is currently spending barely half that now. I’m pleased that Labour councillors at the County Council successfully argued for an additional £5 million for road maintenance in the county’s budget for 2024/25. Rishi Sunak recently promised more funding for councils for pothole repairs over the next two years. Let’s hope it’s not too long in coming, as we urgently need the repairs here in Witney. I will continue to campaign for the repairs and improvements, and hold the Tories to account.”
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