Potholes are plaguing roads across Somerset and they have their own names

Politicians have made calls for action on the pothole menace plaguing roads across Devon and Somerset. Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, recently brought attention to the contentious issue of potholes in a Westminster Hall debate.

The Conservative MP said, “When digging around on Google and many of these other things—which I confess not to completely understand —I discovered just how contentiously difficult potholes are.”

He went on to list the various names given to potholes, such as The Canyon, The Alligator, The Sniper, The Slalom, and The Alcatraz. He highlighted the national concern over potholes, stating: “In Devon, there is a Facebook page called ‘Devon Potholes’. It is fascinating how incensed people are by something that should really be simple to solve.”

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He also mentioned the case in Watchet, where the Daily Mail filled in potholes to help a 101-year-old get in and out of their house. Mr Liddell-Grainger provided statistics on the number of reported potholes in Devon, stating, “In 2019, there were around 50,000 reported potholes, of which they claim to have repaired 50,000. In 2022, there were 34,000—so there has been a reduction—of which they claim to have repaired 32,150”.

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, echoed these concerns, stating, “I get out and about speaking to people across my part of Devon every single week, and our roads are a constant concern and grumble on the doorstep.”

He mentioned the government’s efforts to redirect funds from HS2 to speed up pothole repairs and boost the highway maintenance budget with Devon County investing £10million taking the county’s highway budget to £72million.

In response, Mr Liddell-Grainger acknowledged the efforts made by Devon County Council, stating, “I am very grateful for the work he has done. I know he has worked very hard with the leader of Devon to make sure we secured the money.” He also mentioned the ongoing battle to maintain roads in Somerset due to the unstable nature of the peat.

“I have worked with the leader of Somerset county now for 25 years, who covers a major part of the Levels, where we know the roads move all the time because of the peat. It has been a never-ending battle in Somerset to try to stabilise roads that are unstable.

“The cost of rebuilding those roads after the ’14 floods was simply astronomical, but we cannot not do it. As peat is a natural resource, we cannot pile—we cannot get deep enough—so whatever we do is a problem.”

He further suggested the use of technology to deal with potholes, stating: “I was Googling some quite remarkable machines that fill in potholes. They can do the middle, so they can deal with all the pothole types I named earlier—they basically gouge out and redo it”.

He continued: “There is no secret that in Somerset we have a financial crisis. It is very difficult at the moment. We have managed to get through this year—we are fine—but next year is not looking so good. We have a lot of work to do, and if we do not do the work on roads, they just get worse. Then more money is required, and it a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have to help places that do not have the money—the same goes for Buckinghamshire and other counties that have the same problem.”

Richard Foord, Lib Dem MP for Tiverton & Honiton, questioned the responsibility of the county council for the state of the roads, stating, “Does the hon. Member agree that the county council is responsible for roads and that the potholes we see are ultimately the responsibility of central Government?”

In response, Mr Liddell-Grainger stated: “John Hart, who I knew nearly 30 years ago, has led a council and has made massive differences. He has just announced that he will stand down after a very long period and I respect that. He has made £10 million available. He has taken his responsibility for roads in Devon deadly seriously”.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Guy Opperman said: “This issue is clearly something that we all care about. There is no doubt whatsoever that all our constituents are passionately concerned about the state of the roads that they have to utilise”.

He mentioned the significant uplift to both local authorities in the spring Budget of 2023 and the decision of the Prime Minister in October 2023 in relation to HS2, which transformed the funding increase.

He said: “The reality is that Devon and Somerset received a further funding uplift of approximately £15 million in the spring Budget of 2023, and then £10 million of additional maintenance funding in 2023-24.

“The funding formula recognises that and allocates funding to local authorities based on road length. We acknowledge the particular circumstances in Devon, and I have set out in this House how it receives effectively more money than virtually any other local authority because of road length and its nature. Although my constituency is bigger, Devon’s circumstances are well known and well understood.”

He also mentioned some of the schemes including the A37 Whitstone Road in Shepton Mallet and the A39 Puriton Hill in Bawdrip which have already benefitted from the additional funding, as have the A358 Cross Keys roundabout in Norton Fitzwarren and the B3090 Marston Road in Selwood. In Devon, roads from Axminster to Yarcombe and from Ashburton to Widworthy will be resurfaced.

He added: “As I understand it, good progress is being made in the construction of improvements to the North Devon link road, and I look forward to its completion later this year.”

Mr Opperman concluded by stating, “I welcome this debate and I welcome the enthusiasm in holding local authorities to account and ensuring that the taxpayer, who we all serve, will get the best outcome. That outcome will be a massive increase in investment, much better roads, a long-term plan for local authorities and better outcomes for all. That is something we should all strive for”.