Roger Ratcliffe imagines a
hole lot more for councils

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What is the best song lyric John Lennon ever wrote? It’s a no-brainer at Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport, where the words “Above us only sky” from Imagine are displayed in the terminal. Some critics argue “All we are saying is, give peace a chance” was Lennon’s most felicitous line, one that’s sung at every anti-war rally. I’ve even heard it claimed that if you want evidence of the man’s genius then look no further than the imagery of I Am The Walrus’s “Semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower”.

It’s a safe bet, though, that any list of great Lennon lyrics will not include this line from the Sgt Pepper track A Day in a Life: “I read the news today oh boy, four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.” Lennon came up with it after seeing a story in the Daily Mail on 17 January 1967 that read: “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain’s roads.”

Half a century later, not much seems to have changed. In fact, things have got a lot worse. To misquote a Paul McCartney song, the long and winding road is covered with more potholes than ever before.

This year, Lancashire was declared the pothole capital of the north. In Lincolnshire there are said to be more craters than on the moon. Across the UK run 40,000 miles of substandard roads, according to the Local Government Association, which says councils are filling in one pothole every 21 seconds yet still can’t keep up. Last week a friend was hit with a £260 garage bill after driving over one in Manchester, and according to car insurers the total UK repair figure is £730 million a year, a cost that’s passed onto drivers in their insurance premiums.

The problem is costing councils and central government a fortune. A couple of months ago the Department of Transport had to boost its annual £75 million Potholes Action Fund
with an extra £46 million, from which North Yorkshire – which has the biggest road network in England – received £3.3 million, but the council leader observed that he could have spent £100 million fixing his county’s roads. Recently, a report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, representing road repairers, claimed it would cost £556 million just to get on top of the problem.

Cyclists have borne the brunt as far as serious accidents go. Between 2007 and 2016, 22 died and 368 were seriously injured because of poorly maintained roads. For them, hitting a pothole can mean not just a costly repair but be a matter of life or death.

The reason potholes have proliferated, we’re told, is that the hard weather earlier this year caused frost damage to many road surfaces. But isn’t it the English way to blame the weather when things go wrong? The RAC is in no doubt that the government needs to provide more funding to maintain roads. To me, it is clear that the Conservatives’ obsession with austerity is to blame, with cutbacks on funding for local authorities’ road resurfacing programmes joining cutbacks in every other area of spending.

As Lennon did not write, all I am saying is, give councils more cash.

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