THE LAST three years have seen north and mid Wales councils fork out more than £120,000 on compensation payments to motorists after their vehicles were damaged by potholes in the road.
While main roads and motorways in Wales are maintained by the Welsh Government, councils are responsible for the upkeep of local roads.
A freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service found that, since 2017, the eight north and mid Wales authorities have paid out a total of £124,841 on payouts to motorists whose vehicles fell victim to holes in the road – on top of the hundreds of thousands spent every year on their ongoing maintenance.
Such claims were made against the councils for vehicle damage or personal injury caused by potholes on roads.
Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 provides councils with a statutory defence if they can show that reasonable care was taken to secure the road and that it wasn’t dangerous to traffic.
But if road maintenance guidelines have not been followed by authorities, this opens up the possibility of a successful claim.
Powys paid out £45,856 – mainly attributed to the fact that the county has the most miles of road of any Welsh council.
According to the council, it has received a total of 1,124 complaints relating to potholes since 2017, with the main offenders being the A490 Nant Rhydymoch to B4392 Groeslwyd, and the B4580 at Llanrhaeadr.
But the cabinet member for highways pointed out that successful claims were on the downturn – from a payouts high watermark of £23,285 in 2017/18 down to £22,570 in 2018/19 and just £4,711 this financial year as of September 24, 2019.
“It should be remembered that our highway network is much larger than any other council area in Wales at over 5000 kms, ¼ of the land mass of Wales and more than 2000 kms more than that of the next largest council area,” said Cllr Heulwen Hulme.
“Much of our network is very rural minor roads, which present a particular challenge in terms of maintenance when faced with a very limited budget.
“However, we are pleased to see that the trend in compensation claim numbers is going in the right direction and that our investment in new technology to repair minor roads, along with improvements to our processes, are showing dividends.”
Wrexham paid out the second highest amount – £39,585 – having received a total of 6,757 requests to repair potholes over the same time period.
Cllr David A Bithell, the lead member for environment and transport, described it as “a national issue”, citing the need for more resources to be made available for councils to spend on maintenance.
“Any claims for vehicle damage are handled by our insurers, and we are constantly trying to repair damaged road surfaces with the limited resources available,” he said.
“The condition of the roads is a national issue, and if more resources were made available for road repairs and improvement, then the number of claims for vehicle damage would decrease.”
Coming in third was Flintshire, who paid out £35,179 after receiving 5,705 pothole reports since 2017, with the main offender being Mold’s Denbigh Road.
On the flip side, however, Denbighshire council paid out only £379 in successful compensation claims over the same period, and Ceredigion only £136.
Conwy, meanwhile, forked out just £219 on compensation claims but spent another £764,631 on repairing known potholes.
Gwynedd spent £999.24 on successful compensation claims, but said another £688,693 and £801,271 had been budgeted on repairing potholes during 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Finally, Anglesey paid out £2,487 in claims, but added that it had spent “well in excess” of £600,000 on repairing potholes following the bad winter of 2017/18, forking out another £539,117 in 2018/19 and another £225,000 so far in the current financial year.
An Anglesey council spokesperson said: “All potholes are repaired within our prescribed time-scales and pothole defects are identified during the continuous highway safety inspections carried out by our four area engineers on a weekly / monthly basis.
“Verbal and written complaints about potholes are also received from the community councils and other members of the public on a daily basis.
“However, once the Highway Authority is made aware of any pothole on our highway network, arrangements will be made to make the defect safe for the public travelling along that route within our prescribed timescales.”
According to the AA, 88% of drivers said that roads are in a worse state now than 10 years ago, with the Federation for Small Businesses finding that English authorities had paid out more than £1.9m in compensation to claimants over the past year.
Potholes are said to be a “menace”, with 24% of claims for vehicle damage being successful, and the average pay out per claim in England standing at £257.
Janet Connor, director of AA Insurance, said: “Drivers are hitting potholes and ruining their suspension, steering, the underbody of the car or axles, and are occasionally being knocked off course and hitting other vehicles, kerbs or lamp posts.
“This year, we’re seeing a growing number of pothole claims described as ‘car severely damaged and undriveable’, which didn’t happen at all last year.
“The pothole epidemic has become nothing short of a national disgrace.”