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“Car-centric” council missed massive pothole that killed 84-year-old cyclist because “primary focus” was to identify “dangers to cars”, not bikes

The local authority is also accused of “defying logic” by claiming that the crack – visible on Google Maps since 2009 – must have closed “on its own” prior to an inspection months before Harry Colledge’s death

A council worker who inspected a rural road, where just months later an 84-year-old cyclist was killed after hitting a six-inch deep crack, has conceded that the pothole – described during an inquest into the rider’s death as a “trench” – was missed during the inspection because the “primary focus” was to identify “dangers to cars”, not cyclists.

An inquest into the death of “much-loved” cyclist Harry Colledge in January also found that Lancashire County Council was sent numerous photographs of the crack in the road – which had been visible on Google Maps since 2009 – in the months before the 84-year-old’s death and, despite plants growing in it, failed to find the pothole on two occasions.

Area coroner Kate Bisset this week criticised the local authority’s “wholly mystifying” and “logic defying” argument that the crack must have closed prior to the inspections before suddenly opening up again, adding that if the council had properly heeded warnings about the dangers inherent on the road, Mr Colledge would still be alive today.

Miss Bissett also concluded that the council appeared to be “primarily focused” on spotting and fixing hazards for motorists, rather than cyclists, and that the inspections were “insufficient” or of an “unacceptable standard”.

Harry Colledge (credit: Cleveleys Road Club)

> Cyclist in his 80s died after wheel got stuck in cracked road

As we reported earlier this year, 84-year-old retired music teacher and father-of-three Harry Colledge was cycling on a rural road with friend Nigel Mycock near the Lancashire village of Winmarleigh on Monday 2 January when the front wheel of his Claud Butler bike got stuck in a deep crack in the road, throwing him off and causing serious brain injuries.

Mr Mycock told Preston Coroner’s Court that the pair had diverged due to a groove in the centre of the road and, as he rode slightly ahead, he heard a “sickening crunch” before turning to see Mr Colledge on the road, still attached to his bike. Police say the 84-year-old would have had under two seconds to avoid the crack.

The former Cleveleys Road Club president was taken to hospital, where he died from his injuries. Photographs of 1.4-mile-long Island Lane – the scene of the crash – taken following Mr Colledge’s tragic death showed visible damage and lengthy cracks, raising questions about the attitude towards cyclists on the UK’s rural roads from both local and central government.

> Wife of “much loved” cyclist who died after wheel got stuck in nine-inch pothole says government must do more to repair “woefully inadequate” roads

And an inquest into the cyclist’s death has now heard that the crack on Island Lane which threw him from his bike had been visible on Google Street View since March 2009, and that thirteen years later, in September 2022, the chairperson of Winmarleigh Parish Council arranged for 19 photographs featuring the road’s defects (one of which can be viewed on this story’s main image), including the 87-metre-long “trench”, to be sent to Lancashire County Council.

Mark O’Donnell, the county council’s highways manager, admitted to the inquest that the pictures, some showing exposed metal mesh, were “hard hitting”. However, though the images were shared at a meeting of the council’s “pothole team”, none of the four workers sent to assess the road six days later were shown the photographs. They failed to spot the cracks during the September inspection.

One of the highways operatives, Richard Hull, told the inquest that the crack – located in the middle of the road – may have been missed as the “primary focus” of the inspection was to identify “dangers to cars”.

Another worker, David Riley, said he had not been “briefed properly” before visiting Island Lane, claiming that “if I had seen the pictures I would have said it needs fixing”.

11 days later, when the road was visited by the council’s highways safety inspector Robert Treen as part of a quarterly assessment, “no defects” were again identified.

Mr Treen insisted at the inquest that “I didn’t miss [the pothole], it must have been repaired”, before suggesting that the crack “must have closed up on its own” before he visited the road.

“I can only say that that puzzles me,” Adrian Runacres, an expert with 30 years’ experience in highway maintenance, said in response to Mr Treen’s claims. “I am not aware of any mechanism that would likely have caused that crack to be there on September 9, then to not be there on September 26 but then return on January 2.”

Mr Runacres argued it would have taken “a considerable period of time” for the crack – which stretched for 87 metres along the road – to develop “to that magnitude”, before noting that, in line with the county council’s own policies, the defect should have been repaired within a maximum of 10 days.

> Dangerous pothole that caused fatal cycling crash was reported multiple times without action 

The coroner concluded that not only were the council’s inspection standards motorist-centric and “unacceptable”, but that the local authority’s belief that the crack disappeared before miraculously opening again “defies all reasonable logic”.

Miss Bisset said that Mr Colledge’s family was “well within their rights to feel outraged at the continual refusal of Lancashire County Council to accept the glaringly obvious with regards to the ongoing presence of the crack.

“The council’s position, maintained to the bitter end, was met by audible laughter in this court. The unrealistic, unsustainable, and incomprehensible position adopted by the council with regards to the presence of the defect on Island Lane leaves me with little confidence that meaningful changes have taken place.”

“The government wants us to be fit and healthy and are so keen to get people cycling, but the roads are not fit for purpose,” Harry’s widow Valerie told the Telegraph following the coroner’s ruling.

“Many of our country’s roads are in a terrible state due to a lack of adequate funding for road repairs. Cracks that wouldn’t cause a problem for motor vehicles but are a definite danger for bicycles seem to miss repair until someone dies.”

Mrs Colledge had also told the inquest that her husband believed that France was a safer place to ride a bike because French roads were kept in better condition.

She added that the state of Island Lane on the day of Harry’s death was an “accident waiting to happen” and that the failure of the council to properly deal with reports of the road’s dangers made her “angry beyond words”.

“Every time I see a cyclist riding towards me my heart jumps and I’m right back by Harry’s bedside in the hospital, looking at his lifeless body and wondering how on earth something like this can have happened,” she said.

> New cycle path branded “waste of taxpayers’ money” as cyclist counts 233 “huge” cracks in surface – six months after it was built

According to data from the Department for Transport, at least 425 cyclists have been killed or injured due to poor or defective road surfaces since 2016.

At the time of Harry’s death in January, Cycling UK’s Keir Gallagher said that the tragic incident highlighted the serious threat posed by potholes and road defects to cyclists, arguing that “our crumbling roads… are deterring many from taking up cycling”.

“Popping out for some exercise in the countryside shouldn’t be a high-risk activity: it’s time for the government to get serious about the risk potholes pose, and to ensure local authorities have long-term funding to properly fix and maintain the local roads,” he said.

Following this week’s inquest, the coroner will file a prevention of future deaths report in a bid to ensure that the incident which led to Harry’s death is not repeated. Mrs Colledge is also considering suing the council for its failure to prevent her husband’s death.

Angie Ridgwell, Lancashire County Council’s chief executive, said in a statement: “We are aware of the coroner’s findings in the inquest into the death into Mr Colledge.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with Mr Colledge’s family, and we can assure them that we will be considering the findings of this inquest thoroughly and carefully.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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35 comments

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Cycloid | 4 months ago
0 likes

My local authority almost refuses to accept any pothole problems, they outsource road maintainance to a third party private company, and I suspect this the norm with county councils. They have robust procedures in place which provide us with the best possible service. All roads are inspected on a regular basis and defects categorised and prioritised for repair. Sounds just like Lancashire!

Here is a quote from their website

"You have a right to make a claim for compensation if your property has been damaged as a result of a pothole or other defect on a road or footpath. But you will only be given compensation if we are found to have been negligent or in breach of our legal duty under the Highways Act to maintain the highway.

To carry out our responsibilities under the Highways Act, we inspect roads and footpaths regularly following our Code of Practice for Highway Safety Inspections (PDF, 1.6MB). We identity and record defects and repair any we identify as being dangerous. The Highways Act recognises though that it’s not possible to prevent all defects.

This means that in law, the appearance of a defect doesn’t necessarily mean we have been negligent. We must use this law in our defence where appropriate. Any money we pay in compensation comes from public funds, and we have a duty to protect these funds."

You can read the whole sad story here :- Making a claim on a highway (cheshireeast.gov.uk)

 

 

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Dnnnnnn replied to Cycloid | 4 months ago
1 like
Cycloid wrote:

My local authority almost refuses to accept any pothole problems

What they're quoting is simply the law - and they can't be expected to immediately know of every pothole that opens up. But if they're made aware of a problem (e.g. through one of the various pothole reporting websites) it becomes their legal responsibility.

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Robert Hardy | 4 months ago
1 like

I remember on first visiting Pilsen in 1980 a large hole in the middle of the road surrounded by a newish warning fence. When I revisited Pilsen in 1989 the hole was still there, surrounded by a rather tatty warning fence, that's communism for you I told myself in my youthful ignorance, now I realise they were mere amateurs in bungling neglect, it takes decades of rampant capitalism to do the job properly!

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leipreachan | 4 months ago
2 likes

There will be no justice up until the point the people of the council (not the council itself) will be sued individually for negligence.

What's the point of being a responsible politician if you can do whatever you want and - the worst possible scenario - being moved to a different position?

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wtjs replied to leipreachan | 4 months ago
3 likes

There will be no justice up until the point the people of the council are sued individually for negligence

They obviously have this horrendous possibility in mind- hence the 'dog ate my homework' excuse dreamed up by the Highways Top Brass who routinely has a day off driving round lots of roads while listening to the radio, assessing whether they're OK for respectable road users such as drivers: the crack must have spontaneously closed up between when the photo was taken and when I drove over it. There's a lot of white spray painting on Lancashire's roads: when nothing is done about the defects (lots of Chiefs driving around painting, not so many Indians repairing) they just repaint them on the next day off

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Rik Mayals unde... | 4 months ago
1 like

There are many roads in the Winmarleigh area, going out over towards Nateby and Pilling, which are in a shocking state, much like this crack. The road from Garstang to Nateby is particularly bad as the road, as many do in this area, sits high above the surrounding fields and they suffer from shifting. Most roads in the care of lancashire County Council are shocking but I guess that is the same all across the country, we seem to be reverting to third world road surfaces.

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Left_is_for_Losers replied to Rik Mayals underpants | 4 months ago
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Biker Phil wrote:

Most roads in the care of lancashire County Council are shocking but I guess that is the same all across the country, we seem to be reverting to third world road surfaces.

Third world? That's true - a mud track would be an upgrade on most roads round me. Simpler now and comfier to use a gravel bike everywhere at the moment. 

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eburtthebike | 4 months ago
9 likes

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the approach of Highway Authorities to road defects, with the emphasis not on damage to cars, but the life and limb of vulnerable road users.  A good start would be to make all highway inspectors do their inspections on a bike.

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ktache replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
2 likes

They'd see and feel more of them.

Don't worry though, Rish! pledged/promised/aspired/vaguely mentioned them, so will be sorted very quickly. But only for motorists. And with no disruption either...

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eburtthebike replied to ktache | 4 months ago
2 likes

Plan for drivers innit.

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marmotte27 | 4 months ago
2 likes

Interesting how any- and everything pertaining to our actual crises always favours the stuff causing and reinforcing these crises: potholes in roads discourage cycling, encourage motoring. Increasing heat the same. Heat also increasing use of air-conditioning in cars and homes. Increasing inequality and assorted degrading social climate encouraging use of SUVs, deteriorating roads and discouraging cycling. Politically the same degraded social climate favouring exactly the parties reponsible for it... And so on and so forth.

One might be led to think all of this was systemic. And will go on as long as we don't change this system.

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eburtthebike replied to marmotte27 | 4 months ago
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And don't forget our glorious leaders cutting funding for active travel by 2/3rds.

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chrisonabike replied to marmotte27 | 4 months ago
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I agree, but actually it's how you see it...

I think possibly you've described the human tendency for people when faced with uncertainty or hard times to go back to the known, the traditional, the safe bets and the big old institutions / companies.

On the other hand you could say that to stop things getting *worse* and increase resilience, everything points towards the massive importance of diversifying travel modes. Also working towards *less long distance travel* and indeed *less travel* overall to some extent - and certainly modes which require less resources, especially imported ones. And a crucial part of that is strengthening local travel eg. active travel and local public transport.

Also ... shurely people don't cycle because we have cold weather? Although to give you credit it's often "... but we have (insert any meteorological condition at all)"...

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Cugel | 4 months ago
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May I just mention, once more, that the roads I ride in West Wales (the Ceredigion/Carmarthnshire borders) are very well maintained indeed with a tiny fraction of the damages and degradations I used to find when cycling very similar roads (large B and lots of "yellow" narrow back roads) in NW England. 

Why is this; how is it possible when the population of West Wales is tiny (73,000 in the whole of Ceredigion, for example) so generates far less rates-dosh and government dosh than the densely populated NW of England?

Part of the reason may be that the road menders of West Wales look (from their appearance and demeanour) like professionals who know what they're doing, rather than the cowboy gangs of incompetants seen in NW England. West Wales seems to have a different tradition (perhaps an older one) of how they deal with mending roads.

Whatever the underlying reasons for this far, far superior West Wales performance, it can't be impossible to copy the method into those places where the roads are currently reverting to C18th byways of rock, mud and hole, can it?

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chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 4 months ago
1 like

Is it *because* there are fewer people, so less use (eg. not thousands of heavy lorries)?

EDIT and probably less utilities digging up roads for repair / to add the next generation of faster digital connections etc. Road surfaces (certainly pavements) in cities seem to be in constant flux.

Or tourism? Or lots of second home of the well-heeled?

Even Edinburgh has some good quality road surface - just not where I stay, and where there are quantities of buses and goods vehicles...

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Cugel replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

Is it *because* there are fewer people, so less use (eg. not thousands of heavy lorries)? EDIT and probably less utilities digging up roads for repair / to add the next generation of faster digital connections etc..

The West Welsh roads do suffer the usual damages from weather and also some very heavy and scrubby farm traffic. Today's bike ride discovered some new (to us) back road some of which is pitted by frost, central grass growth and - generally opposite farm and field entrances - damaged from the wheel-turning scrub of big farm machinery tyres.

But the routine out here sees fairly rapid repairs, which are always of very high quality. That bit of road will be reet before too long; and hasn't yet become dangerous to we cyclists, as here I am safe and well, at home eating cake.  1

An example - the B-road between Llanybydder and Llansawel, which is a hilly and twisty affair with steep turf walls/banks, few verges and loads of gateways. It gets damaged by frost every year, as well as by field run-offs that are often like small rivers, being 100 to near 300 metres above sea level and surrounded by farm and forest.

This road is patched when pothole and crack appear through winter, starting in Spring. The patches are co-planar with the rest of the road and don't ger raggy edges or sink. You can go down the steeper parts at full tilt on a bike with no worry that you'll hit a bump, hole or other cause of an involuntary dismount followed by some nice gravel rash.

About every 4 or 5 years, sectins of this road where extensively patched are scraped, made smooth then either tarmacked with billiard table stuff or gravelled then cleaned of the excess; followed by white lining. They do an extremely good job. They do it quickly.

The informing principle seems to be: why do a thing badly when it's just as easy (and the same or less cost) to do it well? All it takes is the demand for good quality and the encouragement of the required skills in those who provide it.

This probably means no bungs from cowboy firms and no "saving" money today that'll need ten times the spend to fix badly-done things tomorrow. Councils and their officers who seem able to do their jobs, unlike in some places we could mention, where "investing" in dodgy stocks and shares seems to be the priority using the rates and other public dosh.

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chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 4 months ago
2 likes

Well I'm sick with jealosy already!

Perhaps there's something about good materials and craftsmanship there?  In your general area it seems that traditions of that may go back quite some time.

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Robert Hardy replied to Cugel | 4 months ago
1 like

Many areas of Wales have had noticeably better road surfaces than in England for decades.

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hawkinspeter replied to Robert Hardy | 4 months ago
2 likes
Robert Hardy wrote:

Many areas of Wales have had noticeably better road surfaces than in England for decades.

I bet there's areas on the moon with better road surfaces than England

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Hirsute | 4 months ago
3 likes

There was a recent repair on a nsl road near me that wasn't done correctly. The surface is now disintegrating in patches. When I pointed out the danger to those on 2 wheels, all I got back was
"Our recent inspection of this issue has prioritised it as not as serious as some of the other defects we are aware of, so we have recorded it and will consider it when we are planning future works in the area".

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tigersnapper | 4 months ago
4 likes

The issue is that the problem is growing and the councils have less money to resolve it.  Kent County Council admitted in the press earlier this year that the roads were in a state of (I think this was the phrase) "managed decline"!  Both Kent and the Medway unitary authority are cash strapped (£17m this year in Medway's case) so are looking to only spend where legally necessary.  Years of lack of investment are coming home to roost.

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lonpfrb replied to tigersnapper | 4 months ago
1 like
tigersnapper wrote:

Kent County Council admitted in the press earlier this year that the roads were in a state of (I think this was the phrase) "managed decline"!

If a pothole in Kent isn't 5cm deep then it's not considered.

I have explained to Kent Highways that 5cm is a structural failure for cycle wheels so a high probability of death or serious injuries.

Since they don't have the data to consider that a significant risk to their financial stability nothing is done.

That behaviour rewards the drivers of wank-panzers who can disregard the road conditions, along with everything else that they disregard, due to the long travel suspension they have.
Hilarious to see multiple WPs converge in the back roads (designed by sheep) and find that they are unable to pass eachother.

Seriously Useless Vehicles have turned two lane roads into single lane with passing places. Still they don't get unsustainable choices...

Unfortunately their spot in the Darwin Awards will be about the same time as the general population due to climate emergency..

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SimoninSpalding | 4 months ago
8 likes

These kind of defects are everywhere in the Fens. I damaged a wheel on a B road that was being inspected every 3 months, but the crack was clearly visible on Google from 5 years ago. Lincs CC refused to accept there was anything wrong with what they were doing and British Cycling legal support told me to drop it. My concern all along wasn't my front wheel but the fact that somebody could be seriously injured or killed. It would be good if the Coroner issued a Regulation 28 report so that Councils would have to review their procedures.

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Homebaker replied to SimoninSpalding | 4 months ago
3 likes

Sounds so familiar. I live in a small Essex town, road from the station has long crack where the edge of a previous trench has broken out, I reported it as a hazard to cyclists, particularly small wheels, when my child was at junior school and we were trying to cycle every day. He's now leaving University so that's at least 10 years. It's also a bus route and takes the cars from the housing estate, when a pot hole opens up that's an issue for them it eventually gets repaired but the long crack has been there all that time.

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IanMSpencer | 4 months ago
8 likes

Any place there is a pothole, there is typically gravel on the road, but councils don't consider loose chippings a hazard for motorists, it seems, but it is double jeopardy for cyclists - avoid a pothole to be forced into gravel.

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IanMSpencer | 4 months ago
7 likes

A while back I wondered about making an FOI survey to local councils about their road maintenance criteria and whether cyclists were considered.

Sounds like the Coroner's Report would be a useful addition to justify the information request. How do you obtain these?

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BalladOfStruth replied to IanMSpencer | 4 months ago
9 likes

On the local Facebook group where I used to live (A village next to Cheltenham), there was quite a bit of interaction with the Parish and Borough Council, one of the main gripes on there was potholes, so one day they organised an evening with the guy at GCC who oversaw road maintenance, as well as having a Q&A with him in the FB group. He did actually go into the criteria for how bad a pothole has to get before they generally act on it - I forget what they were, but it was something ridiculous like 50cm wide and 10cm deep. I did point out that a pothole one tenth that size could be fatal to a cyclist, but he didn't seem interested – it was obvious that the decisions were made based on the risk to cars, not vulnerable road users.

I also mentioned to him that in a lot of cases the repairs were worse for cyclists than the actual pothole - I did offer to lend him a bike so he could ride over a recently repaired pothole on Beeches road at 20mph, then I’d organise a seance to see if he still thought the repair was good enough.

Funnily enough, he didn't respond.

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wycombewheeler replied to BalladOfStruth | 4 months ago
5 likes

because car drivers can claim aganst them for damages if the car needs repair after hitting a pothole, I'd be interested to know the if the cyclists reatives can sue the council for this failure. It wuld take a lot of car suspension repairs to equal one life lost I would think, should a compensation case be pursued. The coronners report might assist with that.

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kil0ran replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
1 like

Yes, they can and have been sued. Average cost of claim for an alloy and tyre will be £2k once admin fees are factored in. Given volume of vehicle traffic it's a trade-off between frequency of claim and likelihood of a fatality.

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chrisonabike replied to kil0ran | 4 months ago
1 like

Presumably they worry about motor vehicles, not bicycles?  I'd imagine it's something like the latter (while likely to suffer injuries / death) are rare AND in the case of injuries that can be quibbled in court ("can you prove they didn't fall off by themselves?  Also they weren't wearing a helmet").  The former - while only likely to damage vehicle, and only on bigger defects - are much more numerous and each claim is likely to be much more than a bike wheel.

Did I get that right?

Or is it just "council officers have other stuff to worry about and nobody's got time or money to do all the repairs needed.  Nor is there much motivation (at big political level nor local level) to come up with any better system to ensure works don't degrade roads while still allowing all the private companies to dig them up"?  (The latter have lobbying power and can provide tax money and jobs in your area!  And everyone's writing to their local boss complaining "why is my broadband slow?")

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