Highways Agency in hot water over ‘soup bowl’ pothole rules

How deep was the pothole you just swerved to avoid on the motorway? If it was smaller than the size of a soup bowl then the Highways Agency has said that it won’t repair it – you could be encountering the same pothole next time you travel along the motorway.

Road users who suffer an accident caused by a poorly-maintained road can make a personal injury claim with the help of No Win No Fee solicitors.

People who have suffered a whiplash injury caused by encountering a pothole will be alarmed by the new soup bowl definition. The revised criteria for measuring potholes will apply to motorways and trunk roads; it means that only potholes wider than six inches and deeper than 1.5 inches will be filled in immediately.

The change will be introduced in the West Country later this year before being rolled out nationally by 2015. 

At present, motorway repair contractors are obliged to ensure that roads give an ‘even, comfortable and quiet’ ride and are supposed to patch up even minor ‘defects’ within 24 hours.

Dinner plate

Councils have jurisdiction over pothole repairs on minor roads. In Gloucestershire it is a dinner plate (minimum width) and a golf ball (depth) rather than a soup bowl which is used as a measuring stick to determine whether a pothole warrants attention. 

Dustbin lid

The potholes on Suffolk minor roads should be the size of a dustbin lid before someone is sent to fill it in.

Commenting on the new soup bowl definition, Graham Bowskill of the Highways Agency told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The move is designed so that contractors don’t have to rush out and repair a pothole in the middle of the motorway by putting the cones out when it’s only a very small hole.”

But Rick Hulse, the head of the National Association of Bikers with a Disability, speaking on the same programme believes the new repair rule is purely about saving money. 

Danger to motorcyclists

He said:  “A soup bowl which is six inches wide when in contact with a motorcycle tyre, which might be four inches wide, can be so dangerous.” Mr Hulse believes that a hole the size of a soup bowl can be potentially fatal to a motorcyclist travelling around a bend (even at low speed).

He added: “How many pennies do you need to save before you realise that it’s not worth the price of a life?”

Nigel Humphries of the Association of British Drivers thinks that the relaxation of the pothole rules will lead to further problems. He warned: “A pothole which is 4cm deep is an awfully big hole and with lorries rumbling over the top of them, it will not take long for them to expand rapidly. This could cause drivers to lose control.”


Other organisations have expressed fears that the new soup bowl definition –far from saving money – could actually cost more in the long term as potholes are left to grow to a size which makes them more difficult to repair.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance estimates that there are 2 million potholes in England and Wales and it now seems certain that this figure is set to grow more rapidly than ever. 

How long agencies can swerve the issue of repairing them remains to be seen.