Prolonged harsh weather and limited highway maintenance programmes are taking their toll on Northamptonshire's countryside roads by deepening the county's pothole problem, according to an insurance firm.
This has prompted NFU mutual, a UK rural insurer, to urge motorists to take extra care on the county's roads after its research found a 48 per cent increase in pothole claims between 2015 and 2017.
The insurer has raised concerns about suggestions that some rural roads in a bad state of repair could be closed altogether due to a lack of funding.
“People who live and work in rural areas already face huge problems with poorly maintained roads, a higher risk of accidents and a lack of gritting during the winter months,” said Ian Flower, motor insurance specialist at NFU Mutual.
“The deteriorating state of rural roads has been exacerbated by the recent, prolonged freezes. Further flooding also poses an additional hazard as many deep potholes are disguised.”
Figures from NFU Mutual reveal a 48 per cent increase in the number of pothole claims from 2015 to 2017, with the total value of claims almost doubling over the same period.
The insurer’s figures form only part of the picture as many motorists might seek recompense directly from the local authority, while others might weather the costs themselves rather than claim on their car insurance.
“There is a double impact on a rural business, as not only might they have to replace an expensive piece of equipment but there can also be up to a fortnight’s downtime waiting for parts, which adds even more misery to their situation,” said Mr Flower.
Earlier this year the Local Government Association (LGA) called for the Government to tackle the disparity between national and local roads.
LGA analysis revealed £1million will be spent per mile on strategic road networks such as motorways, opposed to £21,000 per mile for local roads, from 2015-2020. Many rural councils are under increased pressure to deal with road maintenance.
There are also concerns that deteriorating rural roads will make access for the emergency services harder and response times longer, potentially putting rural lives at risk.
Government statistics for England report that fire and rescue service incident response times in predominantly rural areas is 10 minutes 37 seconds: an increase of 31 seconds since 2011/12. This compares with a response time of seven minutes and 43 seconds in urban areas.
Stuart Cross, senior agent for NFU Mutual in Northamptonshire, said: “The rural road network is essential for rural businesses and gives people in rural communities vital access to schools, healthcare and other services. In short, they are the arteries of the countryside and if they are unusable it will have serious implications.
“Other rural road users such as cyclists and horse riders are also at risk as they may need to take sudden avoiding action when they encounter a pothole or may ride, unsuspecting, into deep potholes which are filled with rainwater.”