The pothole in the picture opened up in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock last month and was repaired within a few days of its appearing. But according to the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report, the condition of our roads is getting out of hand, presenting an increasing challenge to councils.

Key findings for Wales: 

– Highway and carriageway maintenance budgets are down across Wales.

– The shortfall in the road carriageway budget 2023/24 for Wales was £104.5m.

– The estimated time to clear the carriageway maintenance backlog is nine years.

– 94,512 potholes were filled over the past year, costing £6.8m.

It’s often motorists who count the cost of damaged tyres, cracked alloys, broken suspension parts, wheel misalignment, broken exhausts, and even smashed windows. 

In Wales, 41 per cent of the carriageway maintenance budget was spent on reactive maintenance, according to the report. That compares with just 22 per cent in England, with 16 per cent being considered ideal.

“We don’t live in a perfect world so there is always going to be the need for reactive maintenance,” the report concedes.

But reactive maintenance is more costly. In Wales, the cost to fill a pothole is down to £51, whereas the average cost of a reactive pothole repair has risen to over £81.

Pembrokeshire County Council is trying to stay ahead of the problem. A spokesperson said:

“Rather than wait for potholes to form and address the problem retrospectively we aim to carry out proactive highway maintenance and use preservative treatments, such as surface dressing, wherever possible to prevent road surfaces breaking up.

“Whenever possible when resurfacing we try to use the most durable products, however these tend to be more expensive and are therefore only used at the most highly trafficked locations.”

A study by Skoda last year found that more than a quarter (27 per cent) of the 2,000 British motorists polled had their car damaged by road craters. 

The most common issues were punctures (47 per cent), followed by tracking misalignment (26 per cent) and a cracked spring (22 per cent). 

Richard Evans, head of technical services at webuyanycar said: “With more and more defective roads across the UK, many drivers and cars are at risk of damage from potholes. Our research showed that over half of drivers have had their car damaged as a result of potholes, with 40 per cent actively avoiding routes that they know are prone to them.

“If drivers think that their tyres have burst or their car has broken down, they should try to pull over somewhere safe to avoid obstructing other road users. Using hazard lights and if necessary a warning triangle will also help to ensure you are visible to other drivers.”

When asked whether restrictions on where heavier traffic can go might help prevent potholes from opening up, Pembrokeshire Council gave the following reply:

“Environmental weight restrictions can be imposed in urban areas to restrict traffic, but generally as these are ‘public highways’ all locations should be accessible for all legitimate classes of road users.”

“The initial stage of pothole formation is however more likely to be caused by water ingress rather than vehicular damage,” they added.

Potholes can be tricky to spot, particularly in the darker months when they might also be full of water, appearing like any other road puddle. 

When potholes wreak havoc to car axles and key suspension parts, the repair bill can easily run to more than £1,000.

According to Graham Conway, Managing Director at Select Car Leasing, drivers can potentially protect themselves by plugging-into the UK’s ‘automotive hive mind’, which can warn you of a pothole around the corner, way before you’ve even reached it. 

He explains: “Apps like Waze, an alternative to software like Google Maps, don’t just help you navigate to a location, they also let you warn other road users about potential hazards ahead - including potholes. 

“The community of ‘Wazers’ mark precisely where they’ve just encountered a pothole in the hope that others following behind might be able to avoid it. It’s the brilliant thing about an automotive hive mind - you get a real insight into what’s up ahead. 

“The information is also bang up to date, with pothole reports that have not been ‘confirmed’ by other Wazers typically disappearing after 48 hours.

“If you’re driving along with the app open and you hear ‘Watch out! Pothole reported ahead!’ you can then modify your speed accordingly and prepare to take evasive action when you eventually encounter the road crater.” 

It’s not just Waze that provides this service, other infotainment systems from manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and Skoda can also provide information about impending potholes, potentially saving you from spending hundreds of pounds in repairs.

Such technology is indeed welcome at a time when, according to the ALARM report, over half of roads in England and Wales are not considered to be in good condition, with 17 per cent classified as ‘poor’.

“Adverse weather conditions, particularly wetter winters with more intense downpours and storms and hotter, drier summers, coupled with increased traffic volumes and the age of the network can result in accelerated deterioration and a cycle of reducing resilience,” the report states. “The combined impacts are more acute on evolved and often less well maintained roads, where water can penetrate existing cracks or defects, leading to the formation of potholes which proliferate over time, compromising the serviceability of the road.”

There has been an increase in the number of claims made in the last 12 months; not just on roads but also footways.

Meanwhile, average budgets for highway maintenance reported in Wales have seen a drop for a second successive year to £8 million per authority – 11 per cent lower than ALARM 2023 and the lowest figure reported since 2020. Most Welsh respondents (60 per cent) reported a cut on last year’s overall highway maintenance budget. Of the total funding, only one third of the funding came through the Welsh Assembly Government, with some authorities reporting not receiving any monies at all through this source. The remaining two thirds come from authorities’ own sources.

In the words of the report, “We are in a state of managed decline, and we all know that throwing money at patching and potholes doesn’t provide the best value for money. No matter how good the reinstatements are at the time of completion; they always contribute to the failure of the carriageway.”

Pembroke Dock County Councillor Joshua Beynon commented: “Pembrokeshire County Council’s highway teams are quick responding and working to improving roads in the financial climate with the limited resources we have. As we have had austerity since 2010, there is going to be a reduction in public services and I believe we need a new government that can deliver better public services that we need and deserve.”

Pembrokeshire residents can report potholes via the contact centre 01437 764551 or via their PCC My Account on the Council’s website.

“Response times will vary between 24 hours and several weeks depending on the severity of the pothole and the road classification, but in all instances the council aims to carry out repairs as soon as resources permit”, adds the council.