Potholes costing Borders council almost £150,000 a year in compensation claims, figures reveal

The scale of the pothole problems affecting the Borders’ roads has been underlined by figures revealing that compensation payouts to motorists here are more than three times the UK average.

Olga Olesheva investigating potholes in Young Street in Peebles.

Figures obtained via a freedom-of-information (FoI) request show that in 2018-19 Scottish Borders Council paid out £145,773 in settlements to motorists left with damage to their vehicles by our rut-riddled roads.

Of the 482 claims made over that period, 319 were rejected and 163 settled.

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The average payout made here was £894, far higher than Edinburgh’s £254, West Lothian’s £212 and Midlothian’s £645.

Now a public pothole fightback has been launched in a bid to have the region’s road and street surfaces brought up to scratch.

Peebles business boss and community councillor Olga Olesheva has started an online petition calling on Scottish Borders Council to prevent our roads becoming what she describes as deathtraps.

The 43-year-old said: “The Scottish Borders’ population is over 110,000 and increasing.

“We welcome new housing developments, businesses, tourism, but we need sound infrastructures in place.”

The pothole payout figures now revealed were prompted by FoI requests by consumer champion Scott Dixon.

They reveal that the 482 compensation claims made in the Borders in 2018-19 outnumbered Edinburgh’s 404, Midlothian’s 265 and West Lothian’s 129.

They also show that Scottish Borders Council’s settlement totalling more than £145,000 dwarf those made by neighbouring authorities, with Edinburgh Council paying out £30,027 and West Lothian Council just £4,447, no comparable figures being available for Midlothian or East Lothian.

Mr Dixon, of Edinburgh, said: “It’s clear that it is a lottery on success rates and claims paid.

I know by personal experience that they are relying on a statutory defence that they cannot be held liable for potholes they are not aware of, suggesting that motorists claim on their own insurance and that any claims honoured are subject to wear and tear on damaged parts.

“What I find most surprising is that the average success rate for a pothole claim with Scottish Borders Council is 34%, yet the average amount paid out on each pothole claim is nearly £900, which is more than three times the UK average.

“It appears that the damage sustained to motorists’ vehicles has been substantial in each case, and this requires a meaningful explanation from the council.

“Scottish Borders Council is by no means the worst in Scotland, but equally there is much room for improvement, especially on the quality of pothole repairs and honouring legitimate claims made.

“If potholes were repaired to a satisfactory standard, there would be more money available to repair more potholes.

“Road users deserve much better than this, and I urge every road user to submit robust claims to hold the council to account.”

Extreme weather over the past few years has led to more damage to the region’s roads, and in 2018 more than 700 different sections of road in the Borders were said to have been left damaged by the snowstorms dubbed the Beast from the East.

The council cannot use that as an excuse, according to Ms Olesheva, however.

She believes the condition of roads in the Borders puts driver in danger and that some are not fit for purpose.

That’s why she has launched a petition at change.org urging the local authority to act, and it’s already been backed by more than 1,000 signatories.

She said: “I have hit a few potholes myself, but I was fortunate enough not to have severe damage to my vehicle.

“But we do have a local Facebook page and people started to warn each other about potholes here, potholes there and potholes everywhere, and they were reporting damage to their vehicles, and because I am on the road every day I noticed that roads had deteriorated quite drastically.

“I started noticing that this was a Borders-wide problem and not just a Peebleshire problem and that people in Hawick and in Gala started reporting the same issues, and that’s when I decided to start a petition to see how big the problem is.

“If you go to the petition page, you will see the comments from people about the damage to their vehicles and that can lead people to quite difficult financial situations as well as not having their vehicle.

“It can put you out of business and into serious financial debt because of that.

“From another side, we attract quite a lot of tourism in the Borders, people cycling on mountain bikes, and there is commentary on the petition as well from cyclists.

“My intention is to send a letter to Tracey Logan, the head of the council, and ask her what is the proposed plan for road repairs in the Borders.

”It would be good to see a robust plan for road maintenance because it is the responsibility of the council to repair the roads.

“I have written to Transport Scotland and I have received a reply, but the funding is with the council and it is entirely up to them how they spend the money.

“I was hoping for 500 people to sign – I would have been absolutely delighted with that – but then the numbers kept rising and rising and it was great feedback.”

A council spokesperson said: “Scottish Borders Council takes seriously its role in maintaining the road network and is constantly seeking ways to use its resources more effectively to address both road deterioration itself and any incidences of vehicle damage.

“The council operates a robust process for inspecting and repairing its road network, subject to scrutiny by third parties and which is compliant with industry best practice, as far as practicable.

“When the council is made aware of problems on the road network, it endeavours to undertake repairs in a timely manner.

“The council responds appropriately and impartially to any third parties who may wish to pursue compensation claims.”

Road users can report any issues via www.scotborders.gov.uk/potholes