"Worst road surfaces in Europe?"

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Pothole on Whitchurch Road, Audlem
Buerton pothole
Majorcan mountain road - tough to maintain but perfect road surface

"Are the road surfaces in Cheshire East the worst in Western Europe?" That was a question which was put recently to the AudlemOnline webteam.

Undeterred by the sheer enormity of the task, the webteam decided to find out. We headed off to five countries chosen at random (and, coincidentally, where we just happened to be going on holidays) — France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and, a little nearer home, Wales.

We were determined not to be diverted on our travels by the fine wines on offer, the excellent food and glorious sunshine — except in Wales, where it just rained!

Instead, the webteam focussed their undivided attention upon searching for potholes!

Potholes and more

As regular readers will know, indeed anyone walking, cycling or driving around Cheshire East can see all too clearly, there are potholes everywhere.

Add in grids on the tilt, cracked and broken road surfaces and sinking, poorly maintained pavements and you start to wonder where the Council's roads budget goes.

Only the elderly will remember a road being resurfaced properly locally with the surface scraped away and proper hardcore and then tarmac relaid. For years it's seemingly been patch and mend — with the potholes simply re-emerging after the next bout of rain or frost.

The result: vehicles swerving into the middle of the road to avoid deep potholes, damage to tyres and car suspensions, and cyclists never able to take their eyes off the road surface before them for fear of being thrown over the handlebars.

European sample

We picked a selection of areas, some rich, some less so, for comparison with Cheshire:

  • Belgium
  • The Mosel Valley and Rhineland Palatinate in Germany
  • Alsace in Eastern France
  • North East Majorca, partly because Audlem Cycling Club were visiting the area a few weeks before our potholing search took place. The Cycling Club later told us, by the way, they find the road surfaces there absolutely brilliant.
  • North Wales

Amazingly, our search for potholes elsewhere in Europe proved fruitless.

A raised manhole cover was found in Pollenca in Majorca and Belgian towns still like their cobbles. But potholes, no — the occasional slightly cracked surface, but that was it, on the main roads and B-roads we travelled.

Resurfaced and Painted

What was staggering was the way most roads had been regularly resurfaced and even more regularly painted with white lines. There were bicycle lanes galore and, very often, roads had recently been completely rebuilt.

As nearby as Wales, a long section of the A5 was being properly resurfaced the day we passed by — not just chippings chucked over some wet tarmac, as we see locally, but a proper resurfacing job that should last for years.

Nowhere did we see anything that would compare with Coole Lane, between Audlem and Nantwich. Possibly a visit to deepest Africa would be needed to find similar conditions to stretches of that road.

First pothole after 650 miles

On the main roads, there was nothing to match the desperately poor surface of the A525 through Audlem. Indeed, on a 650-mile return journey from Alsace, the first pothole encountered was after exactly 645 miles of driving — just after leaving Woore (in Shropshire, to be fair) on the final stretch back into Audlem.

Can it be down to financial pressure? Well, Spain is in serious difficulty, but judging by its roads, the Spanish at least have something positive to see from their recent profligacy; Belgium is also in a pickle with political instability; France has financial issues akin to Britain and in Germany, well, somehow you expect efficiency and properly maintained roads there.

The problems are not all down to Cheshire East Council. The appalling road surfaces were there when Cheshire County Council was the responsible authority. Since Cheshire was re-structured politically, we have to admit that the international Financial storm has hit — but it hit Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Wales too, yet their roads are not falling apart.

Council response

We asked Cheshire East last week if our findings are fair and perhaps to explain in detail why our roads are such a mess. Most importantly, do they plan to do anything about the surfaces in the foreseeable future. Their answer was:

"Cheshire East Council will lobby Government for additional funding to help repair roads damaged during the recent downpours.

Councillor Rod Menlove, Cabinet member in charge of environmental services, said: ""The borough's urban and rural roads have suffered three consecutive harsh winters and pot holes are appearing at a rate faster than can be filled. 

"We estimate that by the end of the year, the Borough will have recorded over 30,000 pot holes on the network and have had to divert vital resources from other parts of the Highway budget to make sure that roads remain safe for all road users. Each pothole repair costs on average £50. That represents a lot of money and manpower and we should not be expected to cope with this alone." 

"Let me assure residents that our leader Councillor Michael Jones and I will be knocking on the door of Government very loudly with a good business case as to why we need money to make our roads safe and passable. 

"While we have a statutory duty to repair our roads, we also have a statutory duty to make sure that we are properly funded from central Government for this purpose. 

"This will be my personal challenge before we move ahead into the next winter."

Award

Until this happens, on the basis of our international research, Cheshire East are the undisputed 2012 winners of 'The Worst Roads in Western Europe Award'.

Hopefully, it's a title that might just encourage some action and improvement in the future. We will be watching.

If you find potholes, please report them to Cheshire East. And, if possible, take a photo and email it to Audlem Online.