Last month, following the wet autumn and winter, I was struck by the unusual volume of complaints I have received from folk concerned – quite properly - about the very poor state of many roads across South Shropshire.
Having visited relatives over Christmas in other rural counties, I am convinced Shropshire’s roads include some of the most pothole-ridden in the country. So I am clear urgent action is needed not just to prevent further deterioration and damage to vehicles – but also for durable improvements, with repairs which will last.
A report from the County Councils Network highlighted the significant disparity between urban and rural areas, in how much funding they have available to tackle potholes and road repairs. London Councils are able to spend 83% more than the West Midlands on road repairs.
I have taken this issue up with the Roads Minister – a task made easier by the Conservative Party manifesto pledge at the General Election to a flagship £2bn pothole fund over the next four years – as well as other key transport issues for South Shropshire. For example, I have also urged the Minister to ensure Shropshire is included in any future pilot of the Superbus Network – a scheme currently being piloted for the first time in Cornwall - to improve public transport in rural areas.
But on potholes, the government is both aware of the scale of the problem, and has committed to making funding available to local authorities – two key elements to delivering action on this issue. The last Pothole Fund was allocated 74% to rural shires, and I will press Ministers to allocate the resources in the same manner for this £2bn fund.
That isn’t to say Shropshire has received no funding from central government to fix the state of our roads. In September last year Shropshire Council were awarded £7.3m, through which stretches of 46 of the county’s roads were resurfaced, 25 of which were in South Shropshire. The government also provided over £1m in 2016/17, and over £1.3m in 2017/18 to improve our roads through the Pothole Action Fund. But I am making the case that the recent condition of Shropshire’s roads is so poor, we need our next allocation sooner, rather than later.
Responsibility for maintaining local roads is split between Highways England and Shropshire Council, with funding from central government. So I also raised the issue of potholes with other Shropshire MPs at our regular meeting with Shropshire Council last month, to make clear we need further action from the Council through its highways contractor to rectify the problem and improve the condition of our roads.
We can all play our part by reporting potholes we see to Shropshire Council - since there are over 3,100 miles of roads, cycle ways, and footpaths in Shropshire, which clearly cannot all be continuously inspected. You can do so online at https://shropshire.gov.uk/roads-and-highways/highways-maintenance/pothole-maintenance-and-repair/.
We have seen colder Springs in recent years, including 2018’s Beast from the East, which left us playing catch up in maintaining local roads. So this is an issue that does need urgent action, which I shall be pressing the government and Shropshire Council to deliver.