Potholes: the scales of absurdity

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Kent used to suffer a lot of international ridicule for its potholes. When I lived there its rural highways and byways were known throughout Europe as a phenomenon of bombed, shell-holed shrinking roads that resulted in a massive number of offside-offside collisions because, if the edge of the road has crumbled, you’re forced to drive in the middle. Roads shrink when the shoulders decay and resurfacing does not reach out to a rebuilt edge.

Continental tourists and truck drivers in the 80s and 90s generously assumed that these quaint road surfaces were a relic of war damage preserved as part of the national heritage.

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In the new millennium it becomes the turn of Sussex. Where previously county boundary roads went from mediocre to awful travelling east, the same thing now happens in the reverse direction travelling west.

Should we assume that this is again an heroic attempt to preserve national heritage? If so, Sussex makes the whole experience doubly exciting by extending unrepaired damage to road surfaces and pavements to the centre of towns. Citizens, visitors and tourists are challenged, perhaps even encouraged, to trip on pavements or fall into potholes and risk injury, presumably in the name of authenticity.

If you do suffer injury or damage there is a very precise scale of pothole depth or unevenness that reduces rational thought to absurdity.

One elderly Rye citizen disappeared into a pothole on the High Street and spent six weeks in hospital with a broken hip. He was informed by East Sussex County Council that his particular pothole had been a quarter inch too shallow to allow for compensation.

My car hit a pothole at night two years ago on the outskirts of Iden and smashed not only the wheel and tyre but the front suspension. I was similarly told that my pothole was of insufficient stature. The to-and-fro letters, farmed out by ESCC to some expensive law firm in Milton Keynes, must have cost a great deal more than the £200 I was claiming.

Rye was finally gifted some cosmetic resurfacing, just before the county elections in 2013. The cosmetic treatment extended a few yards into Rope Walk then petered out into the old unevenness and bad potholes. These have been recently patched, with fillings unlikely to withstand a winter or even the normal passage of heavy charabancs. There has also been some half-hearted patching down the High Street, but not much attention to uneven or broken pavements.

It seems unfair to be criticising the county council for potholes in the same week they are being taken to task about the logistics of ongoing serious road resurfacing on the A268. But the streets and pavements are now so bad in Rye that they also will need major and costly surgery.

For both aesthetic and health and safety reasons, they rank first in any list of bad impressions commented on by tourists and visitors – who, I’m afraid, no longer believe that they are a treasured part of our national heritage.

Photo: Tony Nunn

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