Fatality leads to calls for urgent pothole inquiry

Cllr Rob Hodkinson and Cllr Ian Bevan with local resident

Ramsbottom Councillors, Ian Bevan, Rob Hodkinson and Ian Schofield, have called on the leaders of Bury Council to address concerns about dangerous potholes in our town and villages.

This follows the recent Inquest into the death of Ramsbottom resident, Roger Hamer, who tragically lost his life last year when his bicycle hit a pothole on Bury New Road in Ramsbottom.

Following the three day inquest, the jury concluded that Mr Hamer probably hit a large pothole which caused him to come off his bike in March 2016 and caused a fatal brain injury.  The pothole had been reported to the Council earlier in the year.

Councillor Hodkinson added “I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the Ramsbottom Councillors, and no doubt the full Council, our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Roger Hamer who tragically lost his life last year when his bicycle hit a pothole on Bury New Road in Ramsbottom.

Roger had lived in Ramsbottom for most of his life and was well known within the local community.  The recent inquest verdict concluded that Mr Hamer probably hit a large pothole which caused him to come off his bike and sustain several skull fractures. The cause of his death was given as severe brain injury.  The inquest into his death did hear that the pothole identified by the police officers on the day of the incident had been reported earlier in the year to the Council by a local resident.

The assistant coroner stated that “The practices set out by the highway authority are not dealt with consistently. For example the use of spray paint and recording tools such as photos and measurements”.

It was stated that lessons could be learned by this Council, and this is the reason for this call for a review into the Council’s Highways maintenance regime.

Bury Council, as a highway authority, has statutory obligations and duties under the Highways Act 1980 to ensure that it takes reasonable care to ensure that the highway is maintained and is not dangerous for pedestrians or vehicular traffic.   The Council should also comply with national Codes of Practice.

If a road or footpath falls into a dangerous condition due to the failure of the Council to maintain or repair the highway, then it can become liable to anyone injured or who suffers financial loss.

One of the largest areas of concern raised to me by residents is damage to vehicles caused by potholes. According to a recent Bury Times article -Bury has more vehicles damaged by potholes than any other borough in Greater Manchester.

A total of 292 claims for damage to vehicles were made to Bury Council during the 2015/2016 period – more than double the previous year.

There are numerous more residents and visitors injured due to tripping in potholes or falling on the highway, including many elderly residents whose confidence is then lost – and who become housebound through fear of falling again.

In my view, that is simply unacceptable.  Bury Council need to ensure that its inspection and repair regime is fit for purpose and has the confidence of local residents and tax payers.  The Council should ensure that reports of potholes from residents are actioned at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the danger they pose to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Far too often, potholes and issues on the highway are reported by Councillors and residents – and nothing happens. Weeks and months can go by without repair.   This is unacceptable.

Our resolution to be heard at the full Council meeting on Wednesday 13 September, if successful, would instruct the Cabinet Member for Environment to carry out a full review of the Council’s highway inspection and maintenance programme to ensure it is delivering an efficient service in tackling the blight of potholes and minimising the risks posed to road users and pedestrians and to report its findings to Councillors at the next Full Council meeting in November.

But what else can we do to improve the situation bearing in mind that it usually tops the list of complaints in local surveys that we undertake?

There should be better communication with residents about pothole filling and maintaining roads, especially after a report by a resident.

There should be greater clarity on decision-making by Highway Officers so that residents having a better understanding of the timescale for repairs and what can, and cannot be repaired.

The increased use of technology should clearly help all this, and it will help Highway Inspectors spend more time assessing and commissioning repairs together with checking the quality of work, and less time dealing with correspondence or complaints.

One of the most important issues is involving and encouraging residents, Council staff and Councillors to report potholes and issues on the highway.

Why can’t the refuse operative, or social worker visiting a property report problems with potholes on a local street?

What about volunteer “street champions”?

Devon County Council have successfully established a “Community Road Warden scheme”.  Each warden is a highways “champion” for their designated area – whether one street or a few streets or village.   They are responsible for reporting potholes and other issues to the Council – and can do it far more frequently that a Highways Inspector can visit.

They could organise volunteers and carry out minor works such as weed control, and sign cleaning, before they become a safety issue.  To ensure they can work safely on the highway Devon County Council provide free training for the volunteers, equipment and third party liability cover for properly completed volunteer work.

Street Champions could be rewarded for their work – with a council tax reduction – for the effort they are making in their community.

We already have a wealth of volunteers – from homewatch, to residents and tenants associations. Why not tap into their potential – to help the Council and improve their communities?

As part of the overall review and as a tribute to Roger Hamer we ask that Bury Council look at the scheme adopted by Devon County Council and consider a pilot scheme in Ramsbottom. It’s three Councillors are more than happy to work with the Council and residents in that respect.”