You know what virtually everyone can agree on? Not world peace or protecting the environment or saving the whales – there are always contrarians or real politikers on the things that really matter. What everyone can agree on is daft little things, at least in the grand scheme of things. You might just find every single person you know has the same opinion on a pressing issue of modern-day life, and it’s one of those things that’s so small, relatively speaking, that it’s almost absurd.
Potholes. Holes in the ground gouged by the winter weather, by roots under the ground, by 3000-kilo vehicles driving over our road surfaces several times a day. Every town, every village, every city in the UK – probably the world – has problems with them to some extent.
Here in Liverpool they are, perhaps, more noticeable than anywhere else. A recent report by a warranty company named some roads in Yorkshire as the worst in the country – but they obviously haven’t seen Liverpool’s unadopted roads. They are so cratered, so pitted that travel is virtually impossible on some of them.
A cursory glance at the people power website FixMyStreet.com reveals a list of problems relating to poorly-maintained roads around South Liverpool, with Aigburth and the Sefton park area the focus of most.
South Liverpool has a number of unadopted roads – roads the council is not obliged to repair that are theoretically the responsibility of local residents – predominantly around Sefton Park and the surrounding area. There is one pothole, on Mossley Hill Drive near Aigburth Vale that is at least a foot deep and about four feet across. At night, in this poorly lit area, it is largely invisible and would mean almost certain damage to any vehicle travelling over it at speed. It’s easy to imagine a driver losing control of a vehicle upon hitting this Marianas trench of a pothole.
And this is why it’s not just motorists who should be concerned about the parlous state of some of South Liverpool’s roads.
We spoke to garage owner Paul Tuffs, of Automatic Automobiles, who told us that pothole-related damage has rocketed in the last year and listed the damage that can be done to a car while in motion and the long-term wear that driving over poor road surfaces can wreak on a car.
“As the road wheel and tyre go down into the pothole then the lower suspension arm can hit the road surface and distort it, while the coil spring can ovetravel, twist and break,” says Paul, who counts disgruntled taxi drivers with knackered suspensions among his more regular customers these days.
“A wishbone suspension arm can be damaged by overtravelling and striking the ground. The inside tyre and tyre rim can also be damaged in the same situation.”
The result is that steering alignment can become thrown out or coil springs or suspension arms can be compromised. More prosaically, hitting a pothole at speed can result in a puncture. Any of these faults will pose serious problems should they occur in a car that is driving at speed, which then puts other road users in danger.
If you think driving over a pothole at speed in a car sounds bad, just imagine what hitting one at 20mph on a pushbike will do for you. A friend of SevenStreets, artist Julian Taylor, did just that; hitting one, coming off his bike at speed, and landing in another. He was relatively undamaged; his bike was not.
“You’re likely to have a flat front tyre, which will probably require replacing the inner tube,” says Jules.
“The rim can easily be damaged and you’ll need to replace that too. In an extreme case the spokes will break then you have a broken front fork. Going over the handlebars you tend to destroy your front brakes too.
All of which supposes that coming off a bike at speed does not lead to serious injury. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike have been killed in pothole-related incidents and some of the specimens on show in South Liverpool, coupled with the council’s reluctance to address the issue, lead us to ponder whether the road will be allowed to degrade until the point when a serious incident results.
We talked to a spokesman at Liverpool city council who told us that unadopted roads around the city are ‘highly unlikely’ to be repaired at the council’s expense, as the city juggles with the fallout of budget cuts.
So residents who live on unadopted roads will have to shell out for their upkeep. But this system, whereby wealthy residents pay for the upkeep of the roads they live in is as outdated as servants quarters and private stables in the back yards.
Some residents on Greenbank Drive and Croxteth Drive – featuring what are undoubtedly the worst potholes in Liverpool following a second harsh winter – have stumped up the cash themselves to have the road repaired.
Resident Jean Niblock told us that work began but was subsequently stopped because the council said it had run out of cash.
“The situation with the potholes is diabolical – it has been for some months now.
“The associations put in money to have the road repaired. [The council] did one section and then stopped. When we, as tenants, asked why the work had stopped they said the money had run out.
“The moneys that we have put it to Liverpool city council are still in abeyance because they’re waiting for legal papers to be signed – at Liverpool City Council!”
With the work seemingly stuck in bureaucratic limbo, the result is that the roads, which loop around Sefton Park Cricket Club and allotments, are a patchwork of semi-repaired tarmac and seem destined to remain so.
Liverpool city council estimate that to repair this one stretch of road, perhaps half a mile in length, would cost a cool million pounds. Plenty of money when cuts to charities, arts groups and auxiliary support groups around the city are hitting hard – and that figure represents almost one sixth of the entire budget the council received from central government to go towards road repairs in this financial year.
Happily the government announced an extra £1m for Liverpool road maintenance and repair in the Budget. Unhappily, the council says it is unable to spend money from maintenance budgets on unadopted roads, which is where the vast majority of the problems lie.
Mooted ideas have pointed to parking meters dotted around Sefton park and the surrounding roads going directly towards road maintenance, or charging more money for events that are staged in the park.
But the lack of funding and the administrative no man’s land where unadopted roads lie has everyone in Liverpool scratching their heads – no-one seems to know how to address the problem.
So the potholes will get worse; cars will be damaged, cyclists will come off their bikes and brows will be furrowed.
Set against budget cuts that will slash money spent not only on the NHS and education, but thousands of charitable and creative organisations too, South Liverpool’s pothole plight is small beer.
To those staring at bills for car or bike maintenance – or nursing injuries – as a direct result, that won’t come as much comfort.
And every time we pass that trench on Mossley Hill Drive and see another driver taken by surprise, veering suddenly at speed to avoid a gouge in the road so deep a small child could lie in it, we wonder how unimportant it would seem if something altogether more serious were to result.
All because of that silly little problem everyone agreed on.