An open letter to ESCC

Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrats
44 St Helens Park Road, Hastings, TN34 2DN

Becky Shaw
Chief Executive, East Sussex County Council
East Sussex County Council
St Anne’s Crescent
East Sussex

11th March 2024

Copied to:
Sally-Ann Hart MP;
Rupert Clubb, director of communities, economy and transport;
Cllr. Kieth Glazier, strategic management and economic development;
Cllr Claire Dowling, lead member for transport and environment;
Cllr Nick Bennet, deputy leader and lead member for resources and climate change;
Steve Helliwell, managing director, Balfour Beatty Living Places

Dear Mrs Shaw, Mrs Hart, Mr Helliwell, officers and councillors,

On behalf of the 1,800 members of the Hastings and Rother Potholes Facebook group, and with the invaluable assistance of campaigners, Peter Munro and Jacqueline Patton, I should like to ask the following questions and make the following observations and recommendations with respect to the dangerous condition of local roads within your purview.


We should like to commence with an acknowledgement that climate change and unprecedented rainfall is a factor in the deterioration of our roads. We also acknowledge the straightened financial circumstances of East Sussex County Council. This open letter does not seek to review those well-known circumstances, but to focus upon precisely how those circumstances are being addressed, and what measures are collectively being taken to ensure the efficient, cost-effective running of our roads and the safety of road users.

We also acknowledge that under The Highways Act ESCC is not under a legal obligation to repair every pothole or defect. We submit that this is not simply about expense but that it would expose local authorities to undue legal liability and is therefore reasonable. However, what appears entirely unreasonable, illogical and cost-inefficient, is the policy of repairing certain potholes according to a prescribed criteria, whilst leaving adjacent potholes untouched.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) recently submitted the following opinion to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee:

“Pothole patching is at best an inefficient, poor value and temporary solution. It is essential that highly used footways and cycle routes are maintained to a high standard and are regularly inspected. We believe that proper re-surfacing programmes of whole roads or stretches of roads, are a more cost-effective approach than repairing individual pot holes.”

Given the above, and given the council’s straightened circumstances, we question why ESCC is continuing to rely on this “poor value” means of temporary repair? We ask the following general questions to better understand the underlying reasons for this policy.

General questions

May we pose the following questions, some of which may be duplicated in our formal freedom of information request, infra.

1) We note that the government currently has no published road safety strategy, our last having expired in 2019. Does ESCC have a road safety strategy? (qv. Infra., FOI Requests.)

2) Has a road safety risk assessment been undertaken specifically with respect the increased number of potholes appearing on our roads? We ask this not only with reference to the impact on private passenger vehicles, commercial road traffic and pedestrians, but especially given the number of cycles and motorcyclists we can expect within the coming summer months.

3) We note Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP) is entitled to financial incentives under the current contract. May we enquire whether there are similar financial penalties where BBLP does not get it ‘right first time’ and work is not carried out effectively, durably or efficiently?

Similarly, are there financial penalties if repairs and re-repairs are not carried out within the published time criteria?

We believe this information is in the public interest.

4) May we further enquire what is the specific criteria upon which BBLP are judged to have met the threshold for award of financial incentives?

i) Is the model, for instance, productivity-based? Is it based on BBLP gangs repairing X number of potholes meeting the qualifying criteria per day, for instance? If so, does this result in non-qualifying potholes being left un-repaired because they do not meet repair criteria and thus do not assist the contractor to meet its targets for financial incentive?

ii) If non-qualifying potholes left by BBLP are then repaired as ‘advisory’ (discretionary) repairs, may we confirm ESCC pays for these repairs from its own capital budget? In layman’s terms, is ESCC paying for repairs at council’s cost that do not assist the contractor to hit targets for financial incentive?

iii) Are the contractor’s incentives additional to the reported £297m value of the contract?

5) How many financial incentives and of what sums have already been awarded to BBLP? Where are these published?

6) May we confirm that the contractor (BBLP) is liable for re-repair of all failed ‘permanently repaired’ potholes? If so, may we enquire the incidence of such supplementary repairs?

7) We understand that discretionary ‘advisory’ repairs tasked by ESCC stewards augment the BBLP regime. We further understand that this occurs where the pothole does not meet the published criteria under which BBLP are contractually obliged to act. We are advised that these discretionary repairs are paid from an ESCC capital budget and are not covered by the BBLP contract. May we enquire what is the sum of this ESCC capital budget and what sums have been drawn from it to fund advisory repairs?

Additionally, please advise who carries out these discretionary repairs which do not fall within the remit of the BBLP maintenance contract?

Finally, who guarantees the quality of these works carried out beyond the scope of the BBLP contract and what training is provided to these contractors or sub-contractors?

8) Given that there is testimony of reported potholes not being located (qv. prior correspondence with Peter Munro, 27.02.24), and consequently not being repaired according to the published timescales, what technology has BBLP and ESCC invested in to equip gangs and stewards to properly log and locate holes in order that they may be found and efficiently repaired?

9) What is the current protocol for logging, locating and precisely recording a pothole?

10) It has been well-publicised that road gangs have been increased three fold to meet the current widespread dilapidations. Have ESCC stewards been increased too? If not, how is rigorous oversight, quality control and value for money being maintained?


1) The establishment of a Sussex Highways Maintenance Stakeholders Forum with the following objectives:

  • To keep roads and footways in East Sussex safe for road users and pedestrians.
  • To provide public oversight of the performance of ESCC, their highways maintenance contractor and any sub-contractors, statutory undertakers and utility firms in respect of the quality and timeliness of highway and footway repairs and reinstatement across the county.
  • To bring about measurable improvements in the quality of highways and footways in East Sussex.
  • Co-ordination and analysis of county-wide information from stakeholders and members of the public relating to the speed of response to reported defects and the quality of repairs
  • Scrutiny of audit returns and relevant datasets provided to ESCC by their highways maintenance term contractor
  • Assessment of the impact on stakeholders and the general public through collation of statistics relating to damage to vehicles and/or injuries or fatalities believed to have been caused by highways defects.
  • Recommended membership:
    • Relevant senior officers and/or councillors from all borough and district councils
    • MPs
    • Sussex Safer Roads Partnership
    • Police
    • Fire service
    • Ambulance service
    • Bus companies
    • Taxi companies
    • Vehicle rental companies

2) Better location protocols and technology and better tracking of repairs – consider the use of geo-location of potholes with consumer GIS systems using embedded metadata in images or video so the public can view reports and updates in real-time.

3) Adopt a ‘one visit’ regime of repairs to augment the ‘right first time’ principle.

4) Implement commercial penalties for non-performance or poor performance.

5) We urge the scrutiny committee to review the repair criteria again to ensure adjacent or proximate potholes are routinely fixed at the same time as category 1, 2 or 3 potholes are repaired. This recommendation is made with reference to the ROSPA submission, supra.

Freedom of information request to ESCC

1) Has East Sussex County Council conducted a road safety risk assessment specifically with respect to the increased number of potholes and consequent elevated risk of damage to cars and danger to road users and pedestrians? If so, please provide the assessment.

2) What are the specific criteria upon which BBLP are judged to have met the threshold for award of financial incentives? (Please answer with reference to 4)i) supra.)

i) How many financial incentives have been awarded to BBLP and of what sum?

3) Please provide the following information relating to the ESCC HIS contract 2023 to 2030 Vol 2 Scope (Contract issue 1_0)

4) As per 8.7.1 extracts of copies of monthly service reports (from the start of the current contract to the most recent available, redacted as necessary) with information pertaining to (i) work activity performance (ii) status reports in respect of uncorrected defects.

5) Please provide any reports available produced by the council compliance officers or ESCC supervisors that relate to inspections of works carried out by the contractor within the borough of Hastings and the Town of Rye since May 2023.


  • Number of inspections carried out.
  • Number of inspections that resulted in a job failing to meet quality standards.

If the structure of data makes it time-consuming to specifically identify jobs inside the borough boundary please use a suitable alternative method of extracting data for the general approximate area is provided (ie, jobs within a 3.5-mile radius of Hastings Pier, or similar).

Thank you in advance for your collective consideration of the above.

On behalf of the road users of East Sussex, we very much look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Guy Harris, Peter Munro and Jacqueline Patton
PP: The members, Hastings and Rother Potholes – the great zig-zag drive.

Image Credits: Guy Harris .

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  1. Having recently returned from a holiday in Cornwall, I was looking out for the condition of their roads as a comparison to our own and can testify that compared to the Hastings area and surrounding villages, they were in very good shape.
    Travelling back down the A21 and taking the turn off towards Bodiam, once again the fun began on how to avoid potholes without causing a serious accident or damage to your car.
    How much longer do we have to complain?

  2. I look forward to the replies – which I hope will be made available for us to read.
    Guy, you mention representation in the Sussex Highways Maintenance Stakeholders Forum; may I suggest that someone is also included who directly represents the interests of CYCLISTS.
    I have been so unnerved by the danger of huge potholes, the impossibility of skirting round them, and the danger from fast moving and/or heavy traffic should you fall that I have hung up my bike. Which I’m pretty cross about.

  3. Thank you Guy, Peter and Jaqueline for all your hard work that has gone into this letter. Congratulations to Rye News for sharing it. We all look forward to the replies.

  4. I would like to make just three points re potholes. Back in the mists of time frost, ice and snow were blamed for potholes, perhaps due to global warming such events are far less frequent, so potholes are now blamed on rain. Surely this indicates that roads are not constructed for the use that they are being subjected to.

    If the cause is attributed to rain then perhaps draining the rain away would be beneficial, but it cannot drain away because, certainly in our area, many drains are blocked due to a lack of maintenance.

    Lastly, I travel about quite a lot in the area, I cannot remember seeing a pothole filling gang at work. Do they only come out at night, like the last one I saw after myself and several others had burst tyres on a hole in Udimore last December. Also, how many miles do gangs travel between potholes just to fill one it?

  5. Well done. Excellent letter. Very pertinent questions. Will be very interesting to see East Sussex county council’s position on their abject failure to ensure basic standards of road maintenance & the consequent huge deterioration in road safety standards.

  6. Well done Guy and friends.

    While we await a reply here is an update from Cllr Glazier (Leader of ESCC and local county councillor) about the Pett Level Road between Pett Level and Winchelsea Beach –

    “I can confirm that the local Highway Steward has inspected Pett Level Road and identified a number of defects which meet our repair criteria. We intend to complete the necessary repairs within 28 days. Pett Level Road is currently on our resurfacing programme for 2024/25 and whilst we currently have no confirmed date for works, it will be advertised on our website prior to works commencing.
    The Highway Steward will continue to monitor the area on their routine inspections and in response to enquiries received from members of the public. “


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