Essex County council spends �500,000 to compensate pothole victims

MORE than �500,000 was spent on compensating motorists whose vehicles were damaged by potholes on Essex roads, new figures reveal.

Essex County Council (ECC) paid out �501,494 between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2012, according to statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The expenditure was based on 1,501 compensation claims - a further 3,747 requests were “settled at no cost” to the authority.

But ECC has defended its record saying extra funding was being pumped in to repair potholes after “unprecedented weather extremes”.

Lib Dem county councillor David Kendall, who put in the FOI request, said: “I have thought for sometime it’s a very serious problem.

“When you find out �500,000 has been paid out over three years that’s a large sum of money.

“I just think the issue needs to be taken much more seriously.

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“I think there needs to be a more sympathetic and understanding approach when responding to claims - I think some are being dismissed a little too easily.”

Last month ECC revealed �11million is being ploughed into repairing potholes.

But Cllr Kendall added: “It’s important pothole treatment Essex County Council is doing - but what’s the plan going forward once this money has run out? Is this a quick fix or is there a serious long term solution?

Paul Watters, spokesman for the AA, said: “It’s a significant sum - you could have resurfaced a long section of carriageway with that.

“It’s a difficult duty to keep up with. If they temporarily fix a pothole it doesn’t last for long. If they leave it for permanent repair something [damage to a car] might happen in the meantime. But they are in a Catch 22 situation - they have shrinking budgets too.

“Given government cutbacks a long-term programme of repairs is ambitious. I think we’ll continue to see compensation claims going up because councils won’t keep up.

“I suspect what’s happened is they can’t get round to all of them and it’s better to pay out compensation then having a court case.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “Over the past three years we have experienced unprecedented extremes in weather conditions, from heavy snowfall to hot dry springs to severe flooding. This has caused severe damage to our road network.

“In response to this we have invested an additional �11m to repair potholes this year, which has seen over 30,000 repaired so far since the beginning of July. We will also be carrying out further work to strengthen our road network.

“I understand how frustrating potholes can be, which is why we are determined to fix as many as possible and ensure that they don’t return in future.

“It is obviously disappointing to have to compensate motorists for damage caused to their vehicles, but alongside this figure it should also be taken into account that Essex has one of the largest road networks in the country.

“All compensation claims received by Essex County Council are investigated fully and costs are only paid if the council feels they are liable as the highways authority.”