Crisis as spending on potholes drops by £15 million in three years

News / Fri 13th Apr 2018 am30 09:33am

By BBC Local Democracy Reporter
Piers Meyler

THE state of Essex roads has hit “crisis” point after the amount spent repairing individual potholes has dropped by almost £15 million in three years.

The operations of Ringway Jacobs – which began its highways maintenance contract with Essex County Council in 2012 – have also been called into question.

Drivers are being warned that the dire state of Essex roads may deteriorate even further as funding is relocated to larger and more expensive capital projects to surface whole sections of road rather than individual potholes.

While the repair of potholes is primarily a revenue activity – the funding of which comes from a combination of central government grants, council tax receipts and business rates – the total spent on roads maintenance from this cash stream has dropped from £19.613m in 2014/2015 to £5.014m in 2016/2017.

Capital funding for road maintenance – which is financed from a range of sources including borrowing and capital receipts as well as central government grants – has increased from £42.182m in 2014/2015 to £60.419m in 2016/2017.

Essex Highways say that roads maintenance funding pays for a rolling programme of works that aims to improve the condition of the road and stop potholes forming in the first place.

However motorists are being warned the drop in revenue funding may lead to an increase in problems across the county’s road network.

David Kendall, Liberal Democrat county councillor for Brentwood South, said: “The reality is that our road network is in crisis at the moment.

“I can speak personally about Brentwood and in Brentwood, there are potholes and road defects all over the place. It’s only going to get worse.

“The waiting times to get things done is getting ridiculous and the damage to people’s cars is getting ridiculous.

“If you go down Childerditch Lane, there are potholes all over the place. One woman there has had £3,000 worth of damage to her vehicle.

“That is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a really serious problem.

“I think what they have decided to do is proportion more money into major projects.

“They have decided to reallocate the spending but it is short term thinking because it is going to leave our roads in a generally really bad state.”

Cllr Kendall has now asked for a task and scrutiny group to look at the Ringway Jacobs contract – which started in 2012 and is due to finish in 2022, with the option of a five-year extension.

He said: “I have asked for a full review for the Ringway Jabcobs contract. Is it value for money? Is it fit for purpose? Is it doing the job it is designed to do? Are residents getting best value for money?

“In a number of areas, members across the parties have concerns.

“That review needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

Essex County Council says it is committed to investing in some major road improvement projects – including a new Junction 7A for the M11 and a new multi-million pound project to improve the Fairglen Interchange.

Cllr Kendall says however, that some roads are being left to deteriorate badly as a result of lack of funding.

He added: “There are some major roadwork projects that need doing but the bottom line is if they are not prepared to increase council tax from the level it is at the moment, then there is only a certain amount that can go around.

“It’s a really serious situation.”

In response to the issues raised by Cllr Kendall, Ian Grundy, cabinet member for highways at Essex County Council, said: “We constantly review our contracts, whether large or small, to ensure that we receive the best value for taxpayers’ money.

“We have clear annual KPIs in our contract with Ringway Jacobs that include criteria on increasing efficiencies through improved practises and innovation.

“As Cllr Kendall already knows from February’s Full Council, officers at Essex County Council had already planned to continue its review of the Ringway Jacobs contract as we enter year seven of the partnership.

“At that same council meeting, I announced an additional £3m revenue funding for 18/19 to fix issues such as potholes.

“On top of this, the Department for Transport has since announced that it would be giving Essex £2.6m in pothole funding for the next year. This increase has already seen an additional 10 crews on the network fixing the issues that have arisen as a result of the recent cold weather.

“I’d like to thank residents for their patience and ask them to show the same support and gratitude to our road repair crews as they did to our gritting crews – they are, incidentally, largely the same people. As ever, please report any issues you do see on the roads to essexhighways.org”

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