A coroner has warned that a council’s new ‘risk-based’ policy on repairing potholes will ‘increase the risk of future deaths’.
Coroner Peter Sigee raised his concerns with Bury Council in a Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Future Deaths following his investigation into the death of 83-year-old cyclist Roger Hamer in April 2016.
The inquest jury gave a narrative verdict in which they found that Mr Hamer ‘had probably been caused to fall from his bicycle and to suffer the injuries from which he died by a pothole in the carriageway’.
In his report, Mr Sigee noted that the council was in the process of adopting a new highway management procedure, ‘apparently based upon Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure: a Code of Practice published by the Department for Transport in October 2016’, which he considered ‘will increase the risk of future deaths, in particular to cyclists’.
He noted that while under the highway authority’s current procedure any defect of 40mm or greater is repaired, under the new procedure 40mm will be redefined as the ‘investigation level’, so that once a defect is greater than 40mm an inspector will investigate it and consider whether a repair is needed.
He added that if 40mm is specified as the minimum threshold for investigation, defects of less than 40mm may not be investigated and defects of 40mm or above may not be repaired.
A council spokesperson said: ‘The concern raised by the coroner is in relation to the new national Code of Practice, which was commissioned by the Department for Transport. The change from “intervention” levels to “investigatory” is a reflection of the move towards a more risk-based approach for highway maintenance outlined in the Code.
‘The Code of Practice is not statutory, but provides councils with guidance on highway management. It would be foolish to disregard the guidance, but each highway authority has discretion to apply its own policies based on its own risk assessments and priorities.
‘While we will follow the Code of Practice generally, we fully expect that Bury’s policy will exceed the requirements of the Code.’
The coroner also noted that an inspector who examined the road in January and February 2016 did not photograph, measure or record any details as to the condition of the carriageway, ‘which prevented the Highway Authority from effectively assessing the rate of deterioration’.
The jury also recorded its concern as to the lack of paint markings around the potholes ‘which may have highlighted their presence to Mr Hamer thereby enabling him to avoid them’.