Who will foot the bill for pothole repairs, as local authorities feel the strain
The Department for Transport could be asked to bail out cash-strapped local authorities as the bill to repair the region's potholes threatens to run into millions of pounds.
Council staff are battling to provide emergency maintenance to road surfaces after members of the public reported hundreds of potholes opening up last month.
Snow and ice this winter have already taken their toll on the region's roads. The recent big thaw revealed further damage.
Cash-strapped authorities say they have budgeted for essential repairs following last January's snow and ice, but admit they may ask the Government for a repeat of last year's one-off 'catch-up fund' should the latest cost of repairs exceed highways budgets. Last year they spent tens of millions repairing damaged road surfaces.
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The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), which represents companies producing raw materials needed to make road surfaces, said councils were "doing all they can" to repair roads, and has called on the Department for Transport to help out.
AIA spokeswoman Helen Melhuish, said: "Rural areas are particularly bad, and the poor weather has exposed hundreds of potholes.
"Any motorist trying to get down a rural road will find it extra difficult if he or she is confronted by a series of potholes, which are extremely unsafe.
"I know we are in a difficult economic situation, but what is really needed is investment from the Government so that local authorities can get the roads up to standard, rather than having to fork out for temporary solutions such as filling potholes."
In March, the Government announced a £9 million fund to repair the worst potholes, which cost an estimated £134 each to mend.
Authorities say they have dealt with the majority of potholes reported last year, although the recent big freeze has left them with another backlog.
Cornwall Council's highways staff have dealt with 110 of the 150 potholes reported by the public last month, although they are expecting more if another arctic blast moves in.
Asked how the council will continue to fund maintenance work despite having the authority's budget cut by £170million over four years, council spokesman Miles Davis said: "The money has come from the highways budget.
"We knew, following last January's weather, that there were going to be potholes and we were prepared for it.
"If there is another batch of poor weather, creating further potholes, we could look to make a case for help to the Department for Transport, but it is too early yet."
Tim Jones, chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council, said many smaller traders had already complained that potholes are hampering their operations.
Mr Jones said: "There are some very fine businesses at the end of these rural roads so if couriers and customers are struggling to get down them then the results could be grave for businesses."
A Plymouth City Council spokesman said it filled in more than 10,000 potholes last year, and has encouraged members of the public to report further incidents.
He added: "We have already started a full safety inspection of our main roads following the recent bad weather, to ensure that they are in good condition and remain open."
In Devon, county council staff have already received 88 reports of new potholes from the public since January 1, compared with 95 at the same point in 2010. Last year, the council spent £11 million on reactive repairs and resurfacing highways damaged last winter.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, the council's cabinet member for highways, said: "It's too early to predict to what extent the recent severe weather may have damaged our roads, but it's likely to have again caused considerable damage for a third winter in a row."
Similarly, council staff in Torbay say they are dealing with "increased demand" for pothole repairs.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said last year's bail-out came after "exceptional damage" to the road network.
She said to was too early to say whether this winter's weather would trigger another pothole fund.