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Pressure mounts over rural potholes

The government is facing renewed calls to help fix thousands of potholes following harsh weather which has taken its toll on rural routes.

Motorists are being urged to take extra care as limited highway maintenance programmes have left roads in a bad state of repair.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual has raised concern that the deteriorating rural road network will affect access to vital services.

Some rural roads are in a bad state of repair that they could be closed altogether due to a lack of funding, said NFU Mutual motor insurance specialist Ian Flower.

“People who live and work in rural areas already face huge problems with poorly maintained roads, a higher risk of accidents and a lack of gritting during the winter months.

“The deteriorating state of rural roads has been exacerbated by the recent, prolonged freezes. Further flooding also poses an additional hazard as many deep potholes are disguised.”

Figures from NFU Mutual reveal a 48% increase in the number of pothole claims from 2015 to 2017 – with the total value of claims almost doubling over the same period.

The insurer said its figures formed only part of the picture because many motorists might seek recompense directly from the local authority.

Others might weather the costs themselves rather than claim on their car insurance, it added.

Earlier this year, the Local Government Association (LGA) called on the government to tackle the disparity between national and local roads.

LGA analysis revealed £1 million will be spent per mile on strategic road networks such as motorways, opposed to £21,000 per mile for local roads, from 2015-2020.

Many rural councils are under increased pressure to deal with road maintenance.

There are also concerns that deteriorating rural roads will make access for the emergency services harder and response times longer, potentially putting rural lives at risk.

Government statistics for England suggest it takes 10 minutes 37 seconds for fire and rescue services to respond to incidents in predominantly rural areas  – an increase of 31 seconds since 2011-12.

This compares with a response time of seven minutes and 43 seconds in urban areas.

NFU Mutual senior agent Jeremy Atkins said rural roads were the “arteries of the countryside” and it would have serious implications if they were rendered unusable.

“The rural road network is essential for rural businesses and gives people in rural communities vital access to schools, healthcare and other services,” he said.

“Other rural road users such as cyclists and horse riders are also at risk as they may need to take sudden avoiding action when they encounter a pothole.”

LGA transport spokesman Martin Tett said exceptional weather could have a serious impact on roads and it was essential funds were provided for serious repairs.

“Councils are likely to need more support from the government as the full extent of the repairs needed after the recent winter weather has been made known,” said Mr Tett.

“We hope that the government will stand ready to provide this.

“Councils ultimately need the Government to deliver a long-term, sustainable funding solution for our local roads that can boost local economies and deliver for our communities.”

The LGA has called on the government to reinvest a portion of existing fuel duty into local road maintenance, arguing that it would generate much needed funding for filling potholes.

Last month, the government announced it was giving a further £100m to councils to help repair potholes and protect local roads from severe weather.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said the money would help repair almost 2m potholes and help protect roads from future bad weather.

This was on top of £75m in government funding given to councils from the Pothole Action Fund – as well as an extra £46m or highways authorities announced before Christmas.

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