PAYOUTS to motorists whose vehicles have been damaged on Oxfordshire’s roads have increased by two and a half times in just a year.

The county council, which is responsible for highways, said the unusually cold winter snap was a major factor for why it shelled out nearly £190,000 from August 2017 until last month to road users.

The council’s fight for better roads has been boosted by a recent £10m injection and a new £250,000 road repairing machine.

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But the total paid to motorists showed a huge jump – from just over £30,000 last year to £77,167 being paid between the start of August 2017 and August 8 this year.

The total paid to cyclists and pedestrians was even higher at £112,802 over the same period. That sum is expected to include personal injury claims to bike riders who might have rolled into a pothole.

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Together, that means the total paid in compensation by the council from August 2017 to last month was £189,969.

Oxford Mail:

At a special event to show off the £250,000 Dragon Patcher bought by the council to boost road repairs, its cabinet member for environment, Yvonne Constance, said the freezing weather had meant compensation claims had soared.

Mrs Constance said: “It’s our bad winter. It confirms the story we’re telling you: we know it’s bad and that is all part of recognising that we have to invest to get ahead of the problem and not just repair."

ALSO READ: How the council plans to tackle pothole crisis 

In July, the council announced that it would plough the extra £10m into improving the county’s 2,800-mile road network. It is also looking at whether it could borrow another £120m in the future, in the expectation of new residents arriving in the county.

But Mrs Constance said the investment was desperately needed now.

She said: “It’s been too long. For far too long there’s been underinvestment. In part that is because of austerity but we are now at a stage we can invest again.”

Oxford Mail:

A key tool in the fight is the Dragon Patcher, a machine designed in Ireland. The council now owns two – and shares another with other authorities in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

But it is clear people are getting injured on Oxfordshire’s roads. Back in May, a cyclist was thrown from his bike while riding along a street in Benson and although he was ‘furious’ he had been affected by hitting the pothole, he was relieved his injuries hadn't resulted in life-changing problems.

Simon Carr, a university lecturer, said his injuries were worse than he had initially realised – and claimed that the pothole, in Brook Street, had been left unrepaired for up to two and half years.

He thought he had broken three ribs in his left ribcage; in fact, he had broken six, along with his collarbone. That made moving jobs and family home – from Queen Mary, University of London and Didcot to the University of Cumbria and Kendal – far more difficult, he said.

Oxford Mail:

Dr Carr, who started his new job in Cumbria in July, said: “I will be putting in for some damages. I think I’ve worked out even before compensation claims that we are £3,000 out of pocket.

"First of all there were repairs on the bike; then I had to have private physio [on his collarbone]. All in all it was a pretty expensive event and I’m not too happy about it.”

Roads campaigner Mark Morrell said he thought some of the work done by the county council was positive – but that there is still work to be done.

Mr Morrell, also known as Mr Pothole, said: "When you talk to councillors about roads you have to point out that they have a statutory obligation [over them]. They say: ‘we have got a statutory obligation for social care. They have with roads as well.”

On the use of Dragon Patchers, he added: “They’re good. They’re not the permanent solution but they’re a good tool to keep a failing road network running. Really, Oxfordshire needs six of them.

“If you had them going out every day it would make a massive difference to the road network.”

They are equipped to quick deal with poor stretches of roads with a burner – which quickly dries out craters – and jets, which spray bitumen cleanly onto roads. That is then compacted by rollers attached to the bottom of the machine.

Of the two Dragon Patchers owned by the county council, one is stationed in the north of Oxfordshire, in Deddington, and the other for the south is based in Drayton.

This week, the north Oxfordshire Dragon Patcher will carry out work in Witney and Leafield, while the one based in the south of the county will resurface part of roads in Ipsden. In the summer, the machines are used on two shifts – and 16 hours throughout the day.

They work not simply to repair potholes but to improve long stretches of road, sealing several road defects quickly.

Mrs Constance said two-thirds of the 30,000 road defects reported to the council had been repaired – with 25 per cent of them fixed by a Dragon Patcher.

The rest had been repaired by patching gangs, which are usually made up of teams of three workers.