Payouts for vehicles damaged on Oxfordshire’s roads more than doubles in a year

Payouts to motorists whose vehicles have been damaged by driving on Oxfordshire’s roads have increased by two and a half times in just a year.

The county council, which is responsible for highways, said the unusually cold winter snap was a major factor for why it shelled out nearly £190,000 from August, 2017, until last month to road users.

Dragon Patcher operator Tim Harris explains the new machine to Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for environment Yvonne Constance. Photo: Ric Mellis

Dragon Patcher operator Tim Harris explains the new machine to Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for environment Yvonne Constance. Photo: Ric Mellis

The local authority's fight for better roads has been boosted by a recent £10m injection and a new £250,000 road repairing machine - called a Dragon Patcher.

But the total paid to motorists showed a huge jump – from just over £30,000 last year to £77,167 being paid between the start of August, 2017, and August 8, this year.

The total paid to cyclists and pedestrians was even higher at £112,802 over the same period - the sum is expected to include personal injury claims to bike riders who might have rolled into a pothole.

Together, that means the total paid in compensation by the council from August, 2017, to last month was £189,969.

The two new Dragon Patchers. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

The two new Dragon Patchers. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

At a event to show off the Dragon Patcher bought by the council to boost road repairs, cabinet member for environment Yvonne Constance said the freezing weather had meant compensation claims had soared.

“It’s our bad winter. It confirms the story we’re telling you: we know it’s bad and that is all part of recognising that we have to invest to get ahead of the problem and not just repair," she said.

In July, her council announced that it would plough the extra £10m into improving the county’s 2,800-mile road network.

It is also looking at whether it could borrow another £120m in the future, in the expectation of new residents arriving in the county.

The Dragon Patcher team with Cllr Constance. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

The Dragon Patcher team with Cllr Constance. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

But Cllr Constance said the investment was desperately needed now: “It’s been too long. For far too long there’s been underinvestment. In part that is because of austerity but we are now at a stage we can invest again.”

A key tool in the fight is the Dragon Patcher, a machine designed in Ireland - the council now owns two – and shares another with other authorities in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

Roads campaigner Mark Morrell, from Brackley, said he thought some of the work done by the county council was positive – but that there is still work to be done.

Also known as Mr Pothole, he said: “When you talk to councillors about roads you have to point out that they have a statutory obligation [over them]. They say: ‘we have got a statutory obligation for social care'. They have with roads as well.”

The Dragon Patcher uses a combination of compressed air, heat, bitumen and chippings to repair holes. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

The Dragon Patcher uses a combination of compressed air, heat, bitumen and chippings to repair holes. Photo: Oxfordshire County Council

On the use of Dragon Patchers, he added: “They’re good. They’re not the permanent solution but they’re a good tool to keep a failing road network running. Really, Oxfordshire needs six of them.

“If you had them going out every day it would make a massive difference to the road network.”

They are equipped to quick deal with poor stretches of roads with a burner – which quickly dries out craters – and jets, which spray bitumen cleanly onto roads. That is then compacted by rollers attached to the bottom of the machine.

Of the two Dragon Patchers owned by the county council, one is stationed in the north of Oxfordshire, in Deddington, and the other for the south is based in Drayton.

This week, the north Oxfordshire Dragon Patcher will carry out work in Witney and Leafield, while the one based in the south of the county will resurface part of roads in Ipsden.

In the summer, the machines are used on two shifts – and 16 hours throughout the day.

They work not simply to repair potholes but to improve long stretches of road, sealing several road defects quickly.

Cllr Constance said two-thirds of the 30,000 road defects reported to the council had been repaired – with 25 per cent of them fixed by a Dragon Patcher.

The rest had been repaired by patching gangs, which are usually made up of teams of three workers.