Pothole complaints have rocketed – while the cash councils spend on repairs has plummeted
Residents in Greater Manchester reported nearly 40,000 potholes across the region last year – while seven out of ten Greater Manchester councils spent less on day-to-day repairs
Pothole complaints rocketed by a whopping 70 per cent across Greater Manchester last year – as councils simultaneously slashed £8m from their day-to-day road repair budgets.
A Freedom of Information request by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows nearly 40,000 complaints about potholes and damaged roads were received by town halls across the region last year – up from 22,800 – with numbers rising in all 10 boroughs.
At the same time, revenue budgets for road repairs fell by more than a quarter, with most councils spending less than a year earlier.
Some are now ploughing in extra one-off capital money for planned maintenance, however.
Manchester accounted for the largest number of complaints, with more than 8,000 – a rise of nearly 40pc.
Reports in Rochdale and Bolton more than trebled, while in Oldham they doubled.
Compensation claims also rose in most areas, with Bury council paying out three times more to aggrieved motorists than anywhere else, at £50,000.
Only Salford, which had the fewest complaints, paid out nothing at all.
In August, the M.E.N. revealed that requests for pothole repairs are the most common complaint residents have about councils in Greater Manchester – and the FSB has now echoed that concern.
The business association has warned damaged roads could hurt the local economy and gridlock roads, urging them to make the issue a priority ahead of this winter.
Every town hall in the region saw a rise in pothole complaints in 2017/18, according to their FOI responses, with the biggest increase – of 273pc – reported by Rochdale.
Rochdale council told the M.E.N. those numbers related to all highways service requests, however, and not just complaints about potholes.
Seven out of ten town halls, including Rochdale, had cut their reactive road repairs budgets during the same period.
Only Bolton and Tameside had spent more than a year earlier, with Bury unable to provide figures.
Manchester’s spending had steadily dropped from £7m in 2014/15 to just over £4.5m last year, although it is planning to plough in £100m over the next five years in one-off improvements.
Bury council paid out the most in compensation, at £50,000, nearly three times Bolton’s second-place £17,000. Neither council responded to the M.E.N’s request for comment.
FSB Development Manager for Greater Manchester Robert Downes said local road networks were fundamental to the local economy, but in many areas needed more investment.
“It’s easy to dismiss potholes as an irrelevance, or to think of a well-maintained roads infrastructure as a ‘nice to have’, but the issue is actually rather important,” he said.
“Small businesses need free flowing, well-maintained road networks to compete and grow, but these figures suggest it’s still something of a postcode lottery here in Greater Manchester.
“On the back of a particularly cold winter, coupled with a scorching summer, councils will need to pay particular attention to crumbling roads this autumn – especially those roads where they know a problem already exists.”
Arguing councils also need to make it easier to make a complaint, Mr Downes added: “We know longer journey times impact on productivity levels, affects profit margins, and can be a turn off for investors.
“Gridlocked roads just adds to the general transport malaise many road users in Greater Manchester are only too familiar with.”
The FSB has now been carrying out the same FOI research for four years, meaning it can track the situation over time.
For the third year in a row, Salford has been the best-performing council, recording just one compensation claim and the lowest number of complaints, at 1,000 – an eighth of those in next-door Manchester.
“I’m not sure what Salford are doing, but they may want to share the secret of their success with other councils,” Mr Downes added.
“To have the fewest number of complaints for three years running, and not a single pay-out for damage to a motor vehicle in the last year, is really something. Congratulations Salford – again!”
Manchester council stressed that while its revenue spending on road repairs had decreased since 2014, it had ploughed in £11.5m of one-off capital spending last year for planned repairs to improve the condition of the city’s roads – and will add another £14m this year.
It also pointed out that as the city at the heart of the conurbation, it has more miles of road than any other part of Greater Manchester.
Executive member for the environment, planning and transport, Coun Angeliki Stogia, said: “We know that residents want to see high quality roads in Manchester and this is why we’ve committed £100m to our five-year highways improvement programme, which will deliver significant improvements to our network for the long-term benefit of the city.
“As part of the wider programme, we’re currently working on a £4m citywide pothole repair scheme – with work taking place in all wards – which will see more than 14,000 potholes repaired by spring 2019.
“We’re also currently working through a £1.1m programme to clean all of the city’s roadside gullies, which will reduce the water damage which causes potholes and make our roads safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.”
Although the FSB had specifically asked for road repair and potholes complaints, Rochdale council said the numbers it provided were not for ‘complaints’ but for ‘service requests’ relating to any highways issue, including flooding, drainage and street furniture.
Allen Brett, leader of Rochdale council, said: “We’ve committed a massive £12m over the next two and a half years to make our streets the best in Greater Manchester, with 950 roads set to be tackled before April next year.
“For this reason, although we only received 124 complaints about potholes in 2017/18, I expect this figure to reduce even further in the future as our residents, businesses and visitors start to feel the benefit of this substantial investment programme.”