Race to fill in thousands of potholes in the nation's roads

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THOUSANDS of emergency repairs are being carried out on Scotland's roads after freezing conditions left the network ravaged by potholes.

• Workmen begin repairing a pothole on Melville Drive in Edinburgh, as the city council reveals it has earmarked 1,200 holes for urgent remedial work, with the total unknown. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Bear Scotland, one of the companies responsible for the repair of motorways and A-roads in Scotland, said it had repaired more than 400 holes since the beginning of December, while the City of Edinburgh Council added that it had earmarked 1,200 potholes as in need of "urgent repair work", which began yesterday morning.

Local authorities have already been hit by claims from drivers whose vehicles had been damaged by uneven streets, but many warned that it was too early to assess the full extent of the damage.

AA Insurance, the insurance arm of motoring organisation, yesterday said it was bracing itself for a record number of claims for pothole-damaged cars over the coming weeks, warning that many roads were running "on borrowed time".

The organisation said a combination of potholes, snow and heavy rain had produced the "worst imaginable driving conditions" and caused serious damage to roads across the country.

"Our claims staff are bracing themselves for a steep rise in reports of cars damaged by potholes," said Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, adding that motorists may be able to claim for the cost of damage to their vehicle from the relevant highway authority if it had failed to repair a known pothole.

"Last winter, there were three times as many claims between January and March compared with the same period in 2009. We expect the pothole problem to be significantly worse this year because of three successive bad winters and the growing backlog of road renewal."

AA Insurance said the average claim for pothole damage to cars was just over 1,300, but warned that claims could be as high as 14,000.

• Motorists urged to take care in treacherous conditions

Edinburgh council revealed yesterday that it had received 41 complaints from drivers who claimed their vehicles had been damaged by potholes in the capital's streets. A spokeswoman said the council had not yet calculated the cost of the cold weather on the city's roads.

"The exact number of potholes in Edinburgh is not known accurately at this stage as our efforts have been focused on identifying the most urgent and dangerous ones for urgent action," she said, adding that each of the six "neighbourhood" areas of the city had identified 200 potholes that required urgent repair.

Some 48 extra staff have been drafted in for three weeks to repair the holes, costing the council an additional 420,000.

In the Scottish Borders area, the council has been contacted about two insurance claims relating to damage from potholes. It dealt with more than 30 in 2009, with a total value of 1,180.

The weather this year has been more severe than in previous years, with temperatures remaining below zero for long stretches since the end of November.

"Since 26 November, we have had two reported insurance claims relating to pothole damage," said a spokeswoman for the Scottish Borders Council.

"As yet, there is no value attached to either claim so we are unable to answer any questions relating to values."

Glasgow Council said it expected to have to repair more potholes this year than last winter, when it dealt with of 10,000 holes in the roads of Scotland's biggest city.

A spokeswoman for Aberdeen City Council said the full impact of the winter weather would be revealed once the snow had melted. She said: "Roads inspectors are assessing the state of the roads and will effect repairs as required.

"The full extent of damage to the roads will not be apparent until the frost has diminished."

Potholes develop after water seeping beneath the road surface freezes and loosens the asphalt, which is then damaged by passing traffic, a thaw and the rain. Worn-out roads, old repairs and areas around ironwork are the most likely places for potholes to develop.

The potential for damage is greater this year, not only because of the duration of the cold spell, but also because 500,000 tonnes of salt was applied to roads to keep them open.

Damage to motorways, such as the M8, has also been exacerbated by the use of HGV snowploughs this month.

A spokeswoman for Bear Scotland said: "Since the start of December, we have identified and repaired 404 potholes across our trunk road network. Potholes do continue to develop rapidly following the recent severe weather and drivers are therefore asked to exercise caution when travelling."

Amey, the other contractor responsible for a proportion of Scotland's major roads, is set to publish data on how many potholes it has repaired over the winter period later this week.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman added: "The operating companies continue to proactively patrol the trunk road network, identifying and repairing potholes as required.

"The public can assist by contacting Traffic Scotland to report any potholes they encounter on the network."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said that councils could apply for extra funding to help offset the costs of repairing damaged roads - adding that it was in discussion with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities Local umbrella body over the issue.

Councils have previously claimed that they may be facing an emergency bill of between 10 million and 15m to plug the holes in the roads.

"Through regular dialogue with local government, we are aware of the resource pressures councils are facing in responding to the severe weather this winter," the government spokesman said.

"Ministers have made it clear that the Scottish Government would be prepared to consider a case for additional funding to help councils offset extra costs incurred."