Published: 00:01, 04 April 2017
More than 500 pothole compensation claims from motorists have been rejected in Kent in two years - on the grounds the council was planning to repair the roads in the future.
A law permits authorities to dismiss claims made by motorists whose cars have been damaged by defective roads if they can demonstrate the road in question was scheduled for repair “within reasonable time”.
Figures provided to the KM Group under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that 568 claims for compensation were turned down by Kent County Council in the last two years on these grounds.
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That is 360 more than the number of claims admitted by the council over the same period.
The ability of councils to argue they are not liable centres on them being able to show they have a system in place for regular road inspections and repairs.
The government announced earlier this year a £70 million fund for councils to tackle the proliferation of potholes saying that it would help repair more than 1.3 million.
But councils said while additional money for fixing potholes was welcome, recent analysis showed the overall repair bill could reach £14 billion within two years.
On its website, KCC makes clear that most claims are unsuccessful and urges motorists to think carefully before lodging one.
Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation said: “The council has a whole list of legal excuses to hide behind when it comes to defending a compensation claim, but these will be of little interest to drivers left footing large repair bills because of the poor state of the roads.
“Ultimately, we need a reasonable, long-term funding settlement for local road maintenance similar to the ring-fenced funding promised for motorways from 2020.
“Until then - and despite the council’s best endeavours - drivers using the 5,500 miles of KCC-controlled roads will never quite know what they’ll find round the corner, or what damage it might do to their vehicle.”
A KCC spokesman said: “We are one of the largest local authorities in England, with over 5,000 miles of road network.
“Our low figures for ‘successful’ claim figures reflect a low level of liability because of our improved fault reporting and repairs.
“Councils across the country cannot be held liable for a defect they are not aware of, as set out by government legislation.
“We may not be aware of a particular pothole either because it has not been reported or it has not been picked up during inspection and maintenance.
“We work hard to maintain our roads to help prevent problems and potholes in the future.”
“Resurfacing roads is an essential part to maintaining our 5,400 mile road network for longer and we schedule in planned work, where necessary, each year, usually during warmer months.
“Our resurfacing programme is published on Kent.gov and our programme is based on road condition data.
“This includes regular inspections, annual surveys using specialist equipment, and reports from councillors, parish councils, community groups and residents.
“Our inspectors regularly check for defects but we encourage people to help us identify any problems and report them via our customer friendly on-line reporting tool at www.kent.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/report-a-problem
“Once reported, pothole repairs are prioritised based on the risk to the road user, however all will be programmed to be completed within a month.
“The council is spending an additional £2.5 million on pothole repairs this year.
“The pothole blitz will see six local providers operating in two districts, and each will dedicate two pothole gangs per district to ensure that work is very locally responsive.”