Devon: Pothole backlog repair bill is estimated at £200million as the county pledges extra taxpayer cash to fix the roads

Extra funding to help repair battered roads in Devon has been approved but comes as the county’s backlog of repairs hits an estimated £200 million, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

Thanks to savings accrued during the year and a budget underspend, Devon is now able to put £12 million extra into maintaining the county’s roads, notably repairing its deluge of potholes and improving drainage issues.

But Devon County Council’s cabinet heard that the extra cash comes as the repair bill for outstanding maintenance on the county’s roads is thought to be £200 million.

Councillor Stuart Hughes (Conservative, Sidmouth), cabinet member for highway management, said savings made across the council had contributed £10 million of the £12 million, with the majority of that earmarked for patching up potholes, £2 million to address drainage issues, and £750,000 for remarking pedestrian crossings and roundabouts.

“The additional £10 million brings the budget in line with last year, which was a significant improvement on 2021/22 and 2022/23 settlements, which were below inflation,” he said.

“The condition of highway assets continues to deteriorate, and that is typically felt most on lower categories of the road network that support our rural communities.

“That’s why we’ve seen a dramatic increase in pothole numbers, and it shows the fragility of the network as we put in a growing number of weight restrictions and temporary closures that impact the daily lives of thousands.”

Funding from the Department for Transport for the current financial year is £59.48 million.

Councillor Martin Wrigley (Liberal Democrat, Dawlish) said he was “delighted” the cabinet had decided to use his party’s suggestions for the budget alteration.

“It’s fantastic to see extra money to fix roads, which can be a blight on hundreds of thousands of people every day,” he said.

“This is what people in Devon really need, as it has got to the state where things are untenable.”

Cllr Wrigley urged the council to ensure more joined up thinking when fixing road issues, and to ensure that drainage problems are prioritised, so that water doesn’t sit on roads for long periods and cause more damage.

“We have a situation near Dawlish Country Park where a horrendously big pothole was fixed, but the drain beside it which causes massive puddles was not cleared at the same time,” he said.

“So, the next day, there’s water all over the repaired pothole, and when you submerge the repair in water and heavy trucks go over it, it instantly gets washed away, making a short-term fix that will quickly fail.”

He added that like adult social care, “we need to fix the problems before they get bigger”.

Labour’s Carol Whitton (St David’s and Haven Banks) said it was “particularly telling” that when additional funding is available, the condition of the county’s roads improved.

“Our residents know that, our officers also know that, and so we just ask whether our cabinet knows it and Government, because there is an ongoing tale here of insufficient resources to maintain our roads in the state residents deserve,” she said.

Councillor Frank Biederman (Independent, Fremington Rural) questioned the timing of the extra cash.

“The cynic in me asks whether this is a one-off effort in an election year,” he said.

“What will happen in future years, I wonder, and if my maths are correct 22 of 27 major schemes are going into Conservative Councillor areas and five into non-Conservative ones.

“Sure, they are worthy and well thought out schemes but cynic in me wonders about that.”

He added that the council was focused on fixing potholes as quickly as possible, but that it was about the quality of the work that mattered.

“Unless we carry out quality repairs, we are throwing good money after bad,” he said.

Elsewhere, Cllr Hughes added that an already approved £2 million – separate to this extra cash – would be spent on a street light management system aimed at improving energy costs.

Step into summer with Hospiscare and raise vital funds for the Devon-wide charity