Gina Davidson: No U-turns on the road to ruin

Picture: JP
Picture: JP
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‘CITY leaders insisted investment was at record high levels”. How often have we heard and read that statement when it comes to dealing with Edinburgh’s true disgrace – potholes?

It was certainly trotted out four years ago when the state of the city’s road surfaces was so bad that even tourists were noticing when their open-topped buses ducked and dived from one crater to the next.

It was said in response to tourist guides who declared the roads were “Third World” or “18th century” to match the architecture. And it was repeated in response to concerns of business leaders, cycling organisations and even despite the figures which showed that in 2011 the council had 379 claims for compensation against it because of pothole damage – up a whopping 71 per cent from the previous year.

Of course the building of the tram line got most of the blame – though quite how that could affect streets miles from the route was never explained.

And then there was the shuffling off of responsibility to utilities who never repair the road surface properly after emergency works. Possibly true. Possibly an easy scapegoat.

Despite the apparent record investment of 2012, by January 2013 the council said it would double the budget for road repairs to £24.5 million to finally deal with the pothole blight.

It was at that point it was revealed that funding in road repairs had actually declined from a high of £20m in 2008 – so the 2012 figure wasn’t really a “record high” after all. But why quibble when something was Finally Being Done?

The spending of 2013 could never be maintained when council budgets were being cut and the council tax freeze continued to bite. And – hurrah! – it didn’t need to be because the council discovered that by the end of that year there were no outstanding road repairs to be done. All reported 125,425 potholes had been filled.

Yet make that suggestion to any driver or cyclist and you might end up paying them compensation for split sides.

By 2014 the budget for road repairs was down to £7m and potholes still topped the list of things the public wanted tackled.

Then came the knockout blow: a secret report which showed that it would cost £260m for the city’s roads to be pothole-free. It also detailed how mismanagement, lack of proper accounting and failure to control costs had all contributed to the worsening of Edinburgh’s road surfaces.

Last year the roads were branded the worst they have ever been. And now there’s to be a £180,000 pothole blitz squad, dedicated to getting the repairs “done right first time”.

Without a doubt potholes are one of those niggling issues for local authorities; like a streetlight that won’t quite come on properly, or a litter bin that is continually missed by the waste collections, they are always being reported by the public.

They are also one of the issues taxpayers can justly point to and ask where their money is going? Obviously not down a pothole.

They’re a god-awful headache, but local politicians who ignore potholes are politicians on their way out of power. Interestingly the collapse of the Greek economy has seen a rise in tourist complaints about potholes in Athens – perhaps now to be known as the Edinburgh of the south.