Gina Davidson: It’s a hole lot of bother, Lesley

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NOTHING brings a politician down to earth with a bump more quickly than a pothole.

For it is of such mundane, middling matters that political careers can be made or ruined as easily as a car’s suspension.

Never mind high-flying visions of economic prosperity or mass affordable housebuilding or creating an eco-friendly city, when there are holes in the road or street lights are flickering and burnt out, there will soon be letters, e-mails, tweets direct to the politician the public feels is responsible.

So responsible in fact that they’d like to see the individual concerned up a cherry-picker replacing the bulb themselves, or tipping boiling tar into the hole in the road. It would certainly prove their “worthiness” of a vote.

And as soon as one is spotted you can rest assured there will be an opposition politician attempting to muscle in on the pitfalls of potholes, crouching beside one and very seriously pointing at its shallow depths for a photo opportunity.

Potholes are said to cost motorists £730 million a year in the UK – and goodness knows how many cyclists are thrown from their bikes when the road suddenly disappears below their wheels, and they are left with buckled axles and bruises. They are literally and metaphorically a pain in the backside.

But when a city finds its roads are littered with potholes it can speak to a deeper malaise. Look at Russia where a lack of pothole repairs resulted in a guerilla street art campaign to make the politicians responsible finally act.

What did they do? They painted the faces of the politicians concerned around the holes which were placed, appropriately enough, in their open mouths. The holes were soon filled. But the problem of crumbling infrastructure – despite, until recently, Russia’s booming economy – showed how the trickle-down effect doesn’t always reach the ground. The repairs were, according to drivers, just “patch over patch” which had about as much strength as the top of a creme brûlée.

It will be a familiar refrain to drivers in Edinburgh where the roads were, in January, branded the worst they have ever been; the cost of repairing them equal to the three 
worst-performing English councils.

The price tag to bring every road up to scratch was estimated at an impossible £260m and transport bosses – including beleaguered Councillor Lesley Hinds – issued a list of 50 resurfacing projects to be done over the next 15 months.

Potholes may seem a trivial problem in Edinburgh in the light of major scandals – statutory repairs, tram line, planning stalemates, school repairs – but it says something about how a local authority is working when such simple straightforward, basic repairs like these are not being done, or are not being carried out adequately. It’s the turning of a blind eye to a little niggle until it becomes a major, expensive headache. How can you trust the politicians to take care of the big things when the little things get ignored?

Without doubt there’s been massive focus on the trams – the tram works themselves destroying many roads. There’s been more investment, rightly, in cycling, but that money has to come from elsewhere in the 
transport budget. And cyclists, too, need pothole-free roads.

Financial concerns, reducing budgets, will have meant corners being cut in the materials used, the amount of time staff are given to make the repairs – and, of course, the demand from disruption-averse drivers that roadworks be done as quickly as possible won’t have helped. And just how much pressure is applied to utility firms to reinstate roads properly?

The news this week that £1m worth of road repairs will have to be done again because of faulty material – at a cost to the contractor thankfully – just adds to the impression that the city’s roads are disintegrating quickly.

For long enough it was suggested that Cllr Hinds could find her career wrecked by the trams, then by Lothian Buses. It might be all it takes is a pothole.

No objections to Elsie honour

A MEMORIAL to the conscientious objectors of the First World War sounds like a reasonable idea – but there are others ahead in the queue in terms of need when it comes to memorialising. Elsie Inglis for one.

Penrose report has failed the victims

THE publication of the Penrose Inquiry report into the contamination of blood products seems to have failed to result in any closure for those affected who are now living with hepatitis C or HIV, or the families of those who have already died because they received an infected blood transfusion. The government has apologised and there may be more compensation available, but for the sufferers railing against the unfairness of what happened to them, it all feels rather hollow. No-one has been held accountable, and that was all they really wanted.