March 2, 2024

Britain is suffering from a “pit epidemic”.

Little has changed on British streets since the days of the Beatles. “I read the news today, oh boy, four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,” sang the famous band on “A Day in the Life” in 1967. A look at the newspaper claims there are 4,000 potholes in the north-west English town of Blackburn alone. But something has changed, driving school teacher Shaun Murray told the “Guardian” newspaper from Blackburn. “Today there are probably 40,000.”

In fact, 60 years after The Beatles, “potholes” are still a hot topic for drivers in the UK. For some time now, National Pothole Day has been celebrated on January 15 every year to raise awareness about the problem. Some streets are full of potholes like Swiss cheese. Transport service provider RAC reckons there are at least one million potholes. There are an estimated six potholes per mile (1.6 km) of public roads in England and Wales.

1,500 tasks per day

The opposition Liberal Democrats recently spoke of a “pit infection”. Helen Morgan, the party's infrastructure policy spokeswoman, said: “In some parts of the country it is now almost impossible to drive without avoiding potholes. In October 2023 alone, the AA Motorists Association had to be called out 52,152 times due to vehicles damaged by road defects. In the year to date, there were more than 511,000 – More than 1,500 a day.” An article in the Guardian newspaper headlined “Broken Roads and Broken Necks: Life in Dilapidated Britain”.

Dangerous roads lead to high costs. Insurer Admiral recently announced that the number of pothole-related claims will increase by 40 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year. The admiral now expects more problems: recent wet and stormy weather is leading to new sinkholes and existing ones getting deeper and bigger. Bicyclists are also at risk. A year ago, a pensioner suffered a fatal fall – he hit a 23cm deep pothole while singing The Beatles' Lancashire.

Rod Stewart swaps the microphone for a shovel

Disillusioned with the government, some are taking matters into their own hands. Music star Rod Stewart was filmed personally filling the pit near his Harlow property in March 2022. He then said that the road has been broken for many years.

After the mysterious street artist Banksy – a stranger calling himself “Wanxi” – caused a stir and painted ejaculating penises around pits. Totally successful. Where his works appeared, potholes were often quickly repaired. The BBC program “Look North” recently addressed the issue with a similar joke. Laughing, host Peter Levy asked viewers to send in photos of “their biggest holes.”

Prime Minister of Great Britain Rishi Sunak (2nd from left) discusses with officials in County Durham how funds announced in the budget should be used to repair roads and potholes in the region. Photo: Stephen Rousseau/Press Association

The banter – and accidents – will soon end. The government announced £8.3bn (€9.65bn) in November to fight the “pothole plague”, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calls the problem. That means around 8,300 kilometers of roads will be rehabilitated in the next eleven years. £150m has been earmarked for this and the next financial year, with the remainder until 2034.

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Fixing potholes is one thing, insists the RAC. But maintaining the streets is also necessary. Modern technology can help: tech company Robotiz3d and the University of Liverpool have invented an anti-pothole robot. With the help of artificial intelligence, ARRES, an English acronym for “Autonomous Road Repair System”, aims to detect and fill potholes. The engine will soon be tested under real conditions for the first time. And of course there's also the appropriately Beatles title: “Fixing a Hole”.