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'Prevention better than cure' for problem potholes

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Councils should tackle road potholes by assuming that prevention is better than cure, a report for the Department for Transport has said.

In Prevention and a Better Cure, the DfT Pothole Review found many councils has traditionally adopted a ‘worst first’ approach to highway maintenance, repairing potholes as they occurred instead of using planning a programme of preventative maintenance based on information about the condition of roads.

This latter method, known as asset management, would see maintenance planned for roads much as it normally is for buildings, instead of a largely reactive approach.

England’s 152 highway authorities are responsible for 379,805 kms of local roads - used by 30m vehicles every day.

Transport minister Norman Baker set up the review after the severe winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 caused a costly plague of potholes to appear, leading to a special government grant of £200m to councils.

Potholes arise mainly from water entering road surfaces, the effects of winters freezes followed by thaws and inadequate drainage.

Mr Baker said: “We all know the misery that potholes can cause to highway users and local communities and the recent series of harsh winters has only served to intensify the situation.

“We’ve given £3bn to councils for road maintenance over the next four years but money can only go so far and the old adage rings true: prevention is indeed better than cure.”

The report called on the government to set highway maintenance budgets for the full four years of each spending review period and for councils to align their maintenance programmes to this.

It said councils should adopt asset management to make investment decisions as this approach had “not been embraced consistently across all authorities, although it is clearly understood that a more preventative approach to maintenance and long term planning is likely to reduce the occurrence of potholes”.

Matthew Lugg, president of the Association of Directors of Economy, Environment, Planning and Transport, who led the review, said its recommendations would “lead to more effective outcomes for the highway users and the economy”.

The Pothole Review built on findings in the Audit Commission’s Going the Distance report, which last year also strongly advocated an asset management approach to highway maintenance.

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