More than £4m in pothole compensation payouts by Essex County Council
POTHOLES on Essex roads have forced the council to pay injured motorists and pedestrians more than £4 million in compensation in just three years.
A Chronicle Freedom of Information request reveals Essex County Council paid £4,395,144 of taxpayers' money in damages to residents hurt by falling or driving into potholes on our county's roads.
One claimant, a cyclist, was awarded more than £24,000 after hitting a pothole in Matching Green and suffering a shoulder injury.
Another, a pedestrian in Chelmsford, tripped while crossing the road and was given £23,000 in damages for banging his knees.
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And with budgets being squeezed at county hall and funding for capital projects cut to a third, opposition councillors say that compensation claims are likely only to rise.
Tom Smith-Hughes, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: "Contrary to what the administration has been saying – the state of our roads is pretty bad.
"Compensation claims are only likely to rise with the cuts, as there won't be enough money to fix all the roads.
"My one worry is that the council accepts these payouts because it can't afford to fix the underlying problem."
One Tiptree resident was paid £17,510 for slipping in Grosvenor Close and injuring their wrists.
Another was handed £18,300 for tripping on a sunken kerb stone in Hatfield Heath.
And while Essex County Council pledged £4 million in 2011/12 to fix potholes and received an extra £5.3 million from the Department for Transport, experts say the "damage has already been done" and predict compensation claims could spiral over the coming years.
Neil Greig, the Essex spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "The problem lies partly in years of underinvestment.
"Essex, like most local authorities, has fallen into that trap.
"Not only are we wasting millions of pounds in compensation claims but we have a huge backlog of roads that need improving.
"Sadly, it's not a problem that can be solved overnight.
"Paying millions in compensation is money wasted but to sort the backlog we're talking billions of pounds.
"Road maintenance is an easy thing to cut but it's not until several years later that you see these huge compensation claims being lodged."
But Mr Greig stopped short of pinning the blame solely on County Hall.
"Essex is a developing county," he said.
"The county council will still have to pick up the bill for utility companies resurfacing the road – even if it's years down the line.
"We've also had two very severe winters."
An Essex County Council spokesman was unavailable for comment as the Chronicle went to press.