Life on Tapp: Britain is a laughing stock for its potholes and transport system
Blaise Tapp writes: The 16-year-old me who opted for a vocational media qualification rather than spend two years grappling with A-Levels while listening to The Levellers in the common room had dreams of travelling the world, while writing about the Beautiful Game.
I continued to nurture those dreams of being a football reporter throughout my studies and it was the prospect of being on the press benches for Wembley cup finals that helped me navigate the rigours of essential subjects such as media law and learning how all forms of government work.
However, it was a matter of months into my first gig as a trainee reporter that I realised that covering ‘real news’ might actually be more appealing than working weekends and being abused for knowing nothing about football for the next four decades. I loved the cut and thrust of reporting on things that others - usually the local council - didn’t want me to write about and nothing really comes close to seeing your name on the front page for the very first time.
Wringing as many stories out of a news patch as is humanly possible soon gave me an insight into what really matters to readers. I learned that erratic bin collection services, alleyways covered in dog poo, out of town developers building executive homes on the local playing fields and the proposed pedestrianisation of shopping areas were issues guaranteed to generate the most letters to the editor, which back in the nineties was the surest sign that a story really mattered to a community.
However, there’s always been one subject more than any other which is likely to get readers hot under their Marks and Spencer collars and that’s the pot hole. During the years that I carried a notepad for a living, I saw more potholes than anybody who doesn’t wear a hi-viz jacket everyday should have to bear witness to.
I’ve heard some examples described by hyperbolic locals as being like the Grand Canyon or akin to the aftermath of a meteor strike and I’ve lost count of the number of photographs I’ve arranged of angry people pointing at holes in the road surface. While there are undoubtedly issues of far greater consequence in the world, people still get mightily annoyed about having to dodge the growing number of craters on our highways.
In fact, the RAC says that a record half of the people that it spoke to for its annual survey this year said that potholes were their biggest concern, with a third saying that they have had to swerve for a pothole in the past 12 months.
While this is a problem as old as Jeremy Clarkson’s gags, there can be no doubt this is a problem that is getting worse with estimates suggesting it would cost £14 billion to bring our roads up to scratch. The Government says it spends a billion quid a year on maintaining roads - although that includes resurfacing rather than just filling in potholes. Then there is the £8.3 billion that we are told will be spent on road maintenance as a result of the shortsighted decision to ditch plans to build HS2 from London to the North West. For many, they’ll believe it when they see it happen.
We’re resigned to having a transport system that the rest of the developed world sniggers about and that includes our lumpy roads - I can’t remember the last time I encountered a pothole in mainland northern Europe.
While campaigning politicians will spend the next 12 months focusing on levelling up, cost-of-living and the geo-political situation in different parts of the globe, many people will be worrying about whether they are going to bend their alloys or being catapulted over their handlebars by hitting a dreaded pothole. Mundane matters indeed.
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