New West Northamptonshire Council is a chance to properly fix our roads, says campaigner Mr Pothole

Mark Morrell believes the fresh start is an opportunity to get more money from the government and change how problems are solved

Friday, 16th April 2021, 8:30 am
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 10:51 am

The creation of West Northamptonshire Council is a chance to improve the area's roads that should not be squandered, says campaigner Mr Pothole.

The Brackley-based bastion for better roads, whose real name is Mark Morrell, believes the new local authority has an opportunity to change the way highways are maintained.

But Mr Morrell admits an estimated £350 million backlog of repairs inherited from the old councils, drops in government funding and the coronavirus pandemic restricts what can be done.

Mark Morrell, known as Mr Pothole, has been campaigning for better roads for years, especially in Northamptonshire

"What we need from West Northants Council is to go to the government and be brave as a new unitary and say, 'we need x amount more,' but there are legacy issues that are hard to overcome," he said.

Mr Morrell has been calling for roads to be fixed around the country for years, including in Northamptonshire, and has a large following on social media on his 'Mr Pothole' account.

Freedom of Information requests by Mr Morrell found Northamptonshire County Council's roads maintenance backlog was £381 million in 2013, increasing to £465 million by 2018.

But he fears the figure could be much higher as it did not include all highways assets and there were irregularities in between reports and inspections.

Mr Morrell believes the current strategy of reactively fixing problems rather than proactively replacing roads that are approaching the ends of their suitability needs to be changed.

West Northamptonshire Council took over the responsibilities of the county council and Daventry district, Northampton borough and South Northamptonshire councils on April 1, with councillors due to be elected on May 6.

The new council extended KierWSP's contract to maintain the area's roads, which Mr Morrell understood with a new local authority not wanting to change too much too soon.

But he thinks much could be improved through the contract by giving KierWSP more incentive to fix more problems rather than having them worried about spending too much money.

"My worries are that the county council invested in that contract and their history with contract leaves a lot to be desired," he said.

"There needs to be drivers in the contract with KierWSP and there needs to be a good asset management team at the council."

Northamptonshire is far from alone with this issue though with other councils in Devon and London facing £1 billion backlogs, he claims.

So Mr Morrell believes it is down to the government to properly fund repairs, with the £500 million pothole fund announced in last year's budget being undermined by overall funding dropping by £400 million.

"Councils need to be transparent about this and explain what the issues are so that people don't just see it as an excuse for not fixing the roads," he said.

West Northamptonshire Council has been contacted for comment.