Councils refusing to repair potholes that are too small

Major disparities in how road defects are actioned by councils are putting road users at risk, according to the RAC.


Analysis conducted by the motoring services provider and Channel 4’s Dispatches has uncovered major disparities in how road defects are actioned by councils.

Of the 206 councils in Great Britain with responsibility for roads, around a third (35%, or 71) list specific depths and in some cases widths that potholes must be before they are fixed – meaning some defects are deemed too small to repair. The most common depth stated is 4cm (54 councils) but in the case of six councils – Warwickshire, Torbay, Thurrock, Nottingham, Torfaen and South Lanarkshire – potholes need to be at least 5cm deep to be considered for repair.

This means members of the public who proactively report potholes to local authorities with a view to getting them repaired may often be left frustrated when no action is taken and potholes are simply left to get bigger in order to merit repair.


Meanwhile, three in 10 councils (29%, or 59) don’t state any criteria publicly online for repairing potholes.

Only 37% (76 councils) say they take a ‘risk-based approach’ to deciding which potholes to fix and how quickly. And many of these don’t often provide much information to explain how this works. There is precious little consistency too, according to the RAC. For example, it found East Riding Council, which uses a risk-based approach to repairing road defects, very positively explains that it inspects all reported potholes within 24 hours, fixing the most urgent within the same timeframe, and then clearly sets out how it prioritises repairing the rest. In complete contrast, Redcar and Cleveland Council does not appear to have a single page on its website even referencing potholes, nor an ability for people to report them online.

The RAC warned that the lack of a consistent approach among local authorities to pothole repairs could impact all road users. And it’s especially concerned the use of specific size-based criteria could be being used by councils as a means of ‘kicking the can down the road’ and avoiding repairing potholes.

It’s now calling for councils to be required to take a risk-based approach to deciding when road defects need attention. New guidance should include criteria councils must use when assessing potholes – including how busy a road is, and how commonly it is used by cyclists – and recognise that just because a pothole may not meet certain depth and width measurements, it may nonetheless represent a hazard to road users