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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Pothole damage claims surge as council battles road maintenance gap

Essex County Council has defended its record on fixing potholes after being accused of failing to deal with a multi-million-pound gap in highways maintenance as it faces a sharp spike in vehicle damage claims. A total of £46.65 million has been allocated to road maintenance this year - of which £7.4 million was money from the Government rolled over from last year.

But it comes after last year's Essex County Council allocated £47 million to the maintenance budget between February 2023 and April 2024. A report in September last year said the level of annual capital-based budget investment in carriageways continues to be held at ECC's £35.15m which it described as "significantly lower" than the modelled deterioration annually of £85.4m in the 24/25 budget business case and "will not result in improvements to condition, and will now see increasing deterioration annually".

In the meantime, levels of claims of damage to vehicles due to poorly maintained roads against Essex County Council have increased sharply.

Between September 2021 and September 2022 there were 1,335 received against the council. Of those, it admitted 40 and denied 1,121. Of the remainder, it didn’t have enough information to investigate or make a decision on, or a decision has yet to be made. Between September 2022 and September 2023 the council received 2,389 claims against it. Of those, it admitted 113 and denied 1714. Of the remainder, it didn’t have enough information to investigate or make a decision on, or a decision has yet to be made.

Councillor Ivan Henderson, leader of the Labour group said at Essex County Council cabinet on January 16: “The impact of the deterioration of our highways is certainly impacting on people and damage to vehicles."

Councillor Chris Whitbread, Essex County Council cabinet member for finance, said: "I don't think there is an authority across the country since the Second World War which has met fully the costs of maintaining roads.

"It is not just something that has happened now, it is not something that has happened under one party. it has happened under many parties since the Second World War where roads have not had the full amount of money. It is a nationwide problem."

He added: “But most importantly last year we put above and beyond what we planned to put in the budget and that was welcomed by residents.”

In December 2022 the council said filling potholes is not a priority while the cost of living crisis is hitting the authority admitting it was running a policy of “managed decline” on its roads. Even at current levels Essex Highways are investing less than half the annual amount required just to ‘stay still’, exacerbated even more by inflationary pressures.

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