Pot Holes, Fires & Fuel Spills

Pot Holes, Fires & Fuel Spills – the latter has doubled in 5 years

It appears the dramatic increase in the number of potholes reported and pay-outs for damage resulting from these, are being blamed upon Highways England.

Our major roads have been privatized; maintenance outsourced to contractors.  Rather than overseen by a Public Authority (Highways England) who provided services ‘at cost’ to the public, they are in the hands of contractors who, understandably, wish to profit … but are they doing so at the expense of the public, excessively and / or profiteering?

Highways England do not repair pot holes but engage contractors to undertake this task paying them by way of ‘lump sum duty’ each month – Copy of FOI 739465 Lumpsum from 08/2016 located here.  Whilst the lump sum duties in the spreadsheet do not specifically state pothole repair, a further FoIA response (19/04/2018) contains the following question to and answer from, Highways England:

Q. How many potholes have been repaired and at what cost?

 A. We don’t hold this information*. We investigate reports of all potholes and any deemed to be a safety risk would be made safe within 24 hours, and a permanent repair scheduled. The cost of repairs are included in the lump sum amount paid to the service provider, for the provision of routine and cyclical services to maintain the strategic road network in a safe and serviceable condition.

But where is the evidence this lump sum payment is being used to address pot holes.  Why are there any potholes on major roads given we, the tax payer, have monthly paid for them to be fixed?

Where is the auditing of the suppliers to confirm compliance with contracts; that roads are maintained, safe?  Have Highways England become complacent … subrogated road upkeep without subsequent care or consideration?

If the roads are not maintained, if potholes are not repaired, the claim for damage to a vehicle caused by the defect is presented to the Public Authority …. the tax payer foots the bill to fill potholes but if they are not attended to the resultant damage is paid for … by the taxpayer!

  • Why are Highways England not seeking reimbursement from their contractor?

The tail wags the dog …. Highways England is not simply beholden to contractors, complicit in the profiteering associated with repairs following collisions (as an example), the pot hole situation is diverting attention from potentially more serious issues … that some collisions likely result from the failure to maintain roads.  Ironically, the repair that follows is charged to the driver (Third Party) and the cause attended to … the fault giving rise to the life-threatening incident is repaired because of it!

Fuel Spills & Fires

If a motorist suffers a fire or spill, the repair is likely to involve resurfacing of the road … an opportunity arises for the contractor not simply to renew the road surface, they can then bill Highways England for this.  Minor resurfacing is likely to cost in excess of £10,000.  The contractor invoices the Public Authority who seemingly rubber-stamp the bill for payment – then go after the driver, fleet, haulier or their insurer (Third Party) for reimbursement … why?

Because Highways England’s attitude is ‘spills and fires likely / may occur due to owner negligence, a failure to maintain their vehicle’. Really?

For years, Highways England blamed tyre bursts (as an example) on driver / owners poor maintenance of road wheels, generally stating most bursts result from under-inflation of the tyres. To add insult to the likely injury, the driver, fleet or haulier would be billed for the damage their vehicle caused if crashing following loss of control due to a sudden deflation of a tyre.

However, in 2018 a study undermined this; an examination of tyre fragments placed the blame in more than 50% of cases not on drivers but on road debris: https://www.englandhighways.co.uk/tyre-related-claims/

Who is responsible for maintaining our roads, for removal of debris and litter? Contractors. The attached lumpsum duties clearly states:

  • Gully/ Catchpit Cleaning
  • Litter Clearance

Is this duty being undertaken?  Not according to one major contractor, Kier Highways:

“The debris is a direct consequence of this zero carriageway crossing* thing, because the guys that work on the networks get very frustrated with it because they feel that they should still be allowed to cross the carriageway.”

*’The execution of zero carriageway crossings began in December 2011. For more, click here.

In brief, clearing a central reservation of debris / litter costs more because traffic management is required; putting out cones requires labour and plant which are expensive.  For more see ‘litter, who cares?‘.  However, if a collision occurs resulting in damage, the contractor can attend to the debris / litter that potentially caused the incident when undertaking the repair AND charge a Third Party or Highways England for the resources.

Is it not more likely that fires and spills result not from a Third Party’s failure to maintain their vehicle but the Public Authority’s failure to maintain our roads?

FIRES: As our cars become more sophisticated, safer, newer, with MoT testing becoming more stringent, it appears reasonable to assume the incidence of vehicle-fault related fires would diminish.  Yet they have stayed about the same during 2013 to 2017

SPILLS: rather than reduce, for the same period, recorded spills have more than doubled! Information can be found here.

This fact has gone unreported and clearly has not been acknowledged or considered.

There is also no consistency when it comes to the decision to clean a spill or resurface.  In 2012, the Forth Bridge suffered a hydraulic fluid spill over about a mile – it was cleaned for under £1,000.  A few months later, the A20 was subject to a hydraulic fluid spill over ½ mile.  It was resurfaced at a cost of almost £60,000 – more here.

To this day, whilst there are procedures for gauging whether resurfacing should be progressed, there is clearly a lack of understanding and it appears the decision comes down to luck … will the Third Party receive a bill for a few hundred pounds or many thousands … will the public be able to drive uninterrupted on the highway or subjected to lane restrictions, diversions and further inconvenience?