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‘How bad does it need to get - sinkhole?’ - Suffolk Highways’ website flooded with reports from angry drivers

PUBLISHED: 17:45 21 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:29 04 March 2018

Kesgrave car dealer Mike Lister spent 11 months fighting for compensation after a pothole caused nearly £1,500 of damage to his car wheels and tyres.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Kesgrave car dealer Mike Lister spent 11 months fighting for compensation after a pothole caused nearly £1,500 of damage to his car wheels and tyres. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk’s highways website has been inundated with problem reports – many from frustrated drivers issuing angry warnings about the “dangerous” condition of the county’s roads.

Road defects in Stratford Road, Ipswich, have led to criticism  of Suffolk Highways. Picture: GREGG BROWN Road defects in Stratford Road, Ipswich, have led to criticism of Suffolk Highways. Picture: GREGG BROWN

More than twice as many reports were logged on the Suffolk Highways reporting tool in January compared with the same month in 2017 – and nearly half of those relate to potholes.

The website has received so many comments that visitors are greeted with a message about “high volumes” of reports which asks people to check whether their problem is already on the site.

Drivers and opposition councillors have claimed the figures show the service is failing and needs investment.

However, Suffolk Highways says the increase shows reporting has got easier and “we are carrying out more repairs for less money”.

The organisation, which is a multimillion pound partnership between Suffolk County Council and Kier, has pointed to the 12,500 reports it has responded to in the past year as evidence of its success - but admits there have been challenges with storms this winter, as well as ongoing funding reduction issues.

It says every report received requires a visit, costing time and money, and asks people to “please ensure you’re reporting sensibly”.

While its message on the website asks people to “rest assured” work in the queue will be assessed, many reports suggest the public is losing faith.

Some posts reference jobs shown as “closed”, when, according to the person making the report, little or no work appears to have been done.

Opposition spokesman for roads Jack Owen has taken pictures of damaged roads in his Sudbury division. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY Opposition spokesman for roads Jack Owen has taken pictures of damaged roads in his Sudbury division. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

At one trouble area in Stratford Road, Ipswich, several residents have issued increasingly irate messages about potholes.

“It is ridiculous and dangerous that these problems are ignored,” said one posted on February 9.

“Today it is much worse with tarmac being thrown on to the verge. How bad does it need to get - sinkhole?”

The website states the job was completed on February 14. However, photographs of the road taken on Tuesday showed the surface crumbling.

In August, this newspaper reported on the frustrations of people living in that area, after Sprites ward councillor Colin Smart took pictures of defects, Suffolk Highways said it had no intention of repairing.

-MORE: Anything wrong with these Ipswich roads? Apparently not say Suffolk County Council

Other online comments have highlighted potholes the “size of a table tennis table” in Stoke Street.. In Bury St Edmunds trouble spots include Glastonbury Road and Huntingfield Road where residents have reported potholes three metres in length.

Jack Owen, opposition spokesman for roads and transport at Suffolk County Council, said he had been taking pictures around his Sudbury division where the carriageway appeared to be “breaking up in a number of places”. “Our roads are getting destroyed and that’s why the public are making so many reports, because, quite frankly the county council is not fixing them quickly enough,” he added. “It’s got to the stage now where some major decisions are going to have to be made and some serious money will need spending.”

Earlier this year, north Suffolk resident Christopher Reynolds highlighted a pothole on the B1077 between Bedingfield and Rishangles, which was thought at the time to be around a foot deep.

John Smith tests the depth of a pothole in north Suffolk. Picture: CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS John Smith tests the depth of a pothole in north Suffolk. Picture: CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS

-MORE: Is this Suffolk’s largest pothole?

Some of the larger potholes have caused serious damage to vehicles. Last month, this newspaper reported on Kesgrave car dealer Mike Lister’s 11-month fight for compensation after a pothole in Cumberland Street, Woodbridge, caused nearly £1,500 of damage to his Jaguar.

Speaking yesterday about the rise in reports, Mr Lister said: “I can understand [Suffolk Highways’] plight, because the roads are now in a terrible state, but they need to be held responsible. A lot more people have their cars damaged and don’t claim - and that’s because they make it mission impossible to get anywhere.”

While many of the angriest online reports relate to potholes, the website also receives notifications from people about overgrown trees, dropped kerbs, illegally parked cars, deep puddles and more. Suffolk Highways said the same gangs fixing potholes and other road defects are also clearing up after storm damage and gritting runs. “We don’t have separate teams for each, this demonstrates amazing agility,” the spokesman added.

Suffolk Highways has also pointed to a 38% reduction in revenue funding since 2010/11. “It is unreasonable to that with such a significant decrease in funding the service would operate exactly the same,” the spokesman added.

Suffolk Highways online reporting tool has been inundated with reports in recent weeks. Picture: SUFFOLK HIGHWAYS Suffolk Highways online reporting tool has been inundated with reports in recent weeks. Picture: SUFFOLK HIGHWAYS

What is Suffolk Highways doing to improve services?

Suffolk Highways claims changes to its structure introduced at the end of last year have “considerably reduced” its response times to customers.

The organisation also says its Highways Maintenance Operational Plan has been changed to “ensure clarity on what we will and won’t fix as a reactive response”.

To cope with the volume of reports, Suffolk Highways has moved resources and brought in extra gangs.

A £21million loan, which Suffolk County Council, agreed to take out earlier this year, is expected to bring improvements.

-MORE: Suffolk borrows £21million in bid to cut number of potholes on county’s roads

“That means we can invest in more surface dressing and resurfacing works over the summer months for the next three years,” a spokesman added.

“This preventative work helps to maintain the road surfaces and reduce the impact of freezing temperatures on the network for a total of 1,000 miles over the current council administration period.”

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