Councils ‘not winning the battle’ against potholes

News has broken today that councils are “not winning the battle” against potholes, as related vehicle breakdowns between April and June reached a three-year high.

These latest figures come from a report by Neil Lancefield which states that a total of 4,091 call-outs were received by the RAC which was the most for the second quarter of a year since 2015.

Incidents included damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels. The period followed severe weather in February and March which saw widespread snow and ice.

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Our roads are still in a poor state of repair after the damage caused by the Beast from the East and the generally harsh late winter conditions the country experienced.

“Councils have been working hard to fix potholes and general road surface degradation, but despite further emergency funding from central government their budgets are even more stretched than in previous years.

“Our figures demonstrate they are not winning the battle and as a result the safety of too many drivers, cyclists and motorcyclists is being put at risk.”

Responding, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson said:

“It is incredible that we are still talking about potholes while we are sweltering in the hottest summer for 40 years.

“The fact is that many of our county’s roads are still in a poor condition despite the winter being over for months. It is taking an age to properly repair some of our main routes. ‘A’ roads like the Fosse Way in the Cotswolds are appalling in parts, while some of Cheltenham’s roads can only be described as embarrassing. It’s the same all over Gloucestershire.

“There just isn’t enough investment going into the county’s roads and pavements and it is all too clear to anyone driving, cycling or walking on them.”

Meanwhile, Gloucestershire remains in the bottom half of a league table, compiled by “we are cycling UK”, of local authorities and their rate of fixing potholes.  GCC is currently sitting in 121st place out of 214.

Call for transparency over A417 consultation

Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire are calling for clarity on how local communities will be involved in the development of vital plans to solve the A417 ‘Missing Link’.

The Air Balloon roundabout has huge amounts of traffic and is a notorious blackspot for accidents and pollution

A comprehensive consultation area, involvement of hard to reach groups and briefings for local councils are among the demands being made by councillors Paul Hodgkinson, Steve Jordan and Max Wilkinson.

Gloucestershire County Council has briefed that the consultation for Highways England’s project will take place in the first two months of this year.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for:

  • a consultation zone to reflect the national significance of the project – including all of Cheltenham and all nearby  villages in the Cotswolds and Tewkesbury districts
  • a comprehensive programme of consultation events so local people can have their say
  • a thorough strategy for ensuring hard to reach groups can take part, including marginalised communities and time-poor working people
  • briefings for all impacted local councils, including Cheltenham Borough Council and Cotswold District Council
  • involvement for parish councils, including offers of community benefits

So far, the county council has closely guarded the details of the A417 proposals and the accompanying consultation has been delayed.

It is thought people will find out more within the next two months, including potential routes.

However, aside from the county council cabinet members, local councils have so far been kept in the dark.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council Lib Democrats, represents part of the A417 and says there needs to be as wide a consultation as possible: “We’ve waited so long for this road to be built so it’s important that everyone knows what is going on and has a chance to comment on the proposals.”

Cllr Steve Jordan, Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, added: “As a Council we have supported plans to resolve the ‘Missing Link’ from the start. It is important that there is an open and comprehensive consultation to make sure the details are right.”

Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate, said: “This is a vital project for the future of Cheltenham and the wider county, so we’re calling for Highways England and the county council to ensure local people are fully involved.”

“That means a proper schedule of events and publicity to inform everyone about the proposals – including the time-poor working people who use the road to commute to work.”

 

Why is new crossing already closed?

A new zebra crossing in Bourton on the Water has already been closed – and people are asking why.

The crossing, which was opened at the same time as the new Co-Op store in the village, helps residents get across Station Road safely from the shop to homes.

Now, just a month after it was opened, ‘crossing not in use’ signs have gone up and the belisha beacons have been shrouded in orange hoods.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) was surprised and dismayed when he heard the news:

“It is crazy to shut it after it has been open since the new Co-Op was opened weeks ago! I gather it is because the developer who built the new shop didn’t alert the County Council who in turn couldn’t get the proper legal process and consultation in place in order to install it.

“This really is bureaucracy gone mad and people aren’t happy. The crossing is on Station Road and is very well used by residents and students from the Cotswold School. In fact people are still using the crossing and cars are still stopping. Everyone is confused!

“I’ve now contacted highways bosses and have asked them to sort out the situation as quickly as possible.”

Call for ‘people’s challenge’ to road closure

A councillor has asked residents to contact Gloucestershire County Council en masse in a bid to re-open a well used Cotswolds road.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton & Northleach) is calling for the ‘old A40’ near Northleach to be brought back into use after being closed by the Council in 2015. He has tabled a question at this week’s County Council meeting asking if highways bosses are allowing roads to fall into disuse.

The road links villages like Yanworth, Compton Abdale and Hazleton with Northleach and was used as a more direct route to avoid the congested and busy A40. It was temporarily closed under emergency powers after the Council claimed that an initial high level inspection showed that damage to the road was severe enough to cause public harm.

Now, the County Council has formally published its intention under the Road Traffic Act to extend the road closure indefinitely. People have until just 14 September to let Shire Hall lawyers know what they think about this.

Cllr Hodgkinson is asking for as many people as possible to contact Council lawyers urgently:

“Last year I presented a petition with 500 names on it to the Council Leader calling for the old A40 to be re-opened yet their wishes have been ignored. Highways officers promised me that a full geotechnical report would be produced in April with recommendations on how the road could be mended or even partially opened. To date I have still not received any recommendations or proposals. The Council is dragging its feet and I’m fed up with promises being made which aren’t kept.”

“The road is already falling into disrepair and I have been told it is not a priority to open it quickly – I have no faith that it will be re-opened at all.”

“The only way we can get Council bosses to listen is through a people’s challenge to the legal notice which Shire Hall lawyers have issued asking for the road to be closed indefinitely.

“Having taken advice it’s clear that the Council has failed to establish whether the damage to the road is indeed severe sufficiently enough to close it completely, partially if at all. To date and after frequent requests there is still no formal report outlining the severity of the damage. This may lead to potential grounds to challenge outright the extension in full or reduce the current order. For example, to allow one way traffic flow on one side of the road for cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

“I am told that the use of the Road Traffic Act in circumstances where work has not even started or in fact where there are no firm plans or even a timetable to begin work introduces grounds for a challenge. The fact that it took them over 12 months to commission a survey in the first instance and then fail to provide a full report prior to the issue of the legal notice on August 24 infers that Council bosses are deliberately dragging their feet and behaving unreasonably. A challenge may have the potential to force them into scheduling the works within a definite timetable.”

Anyone wishing to make their views known should contact Carrie Denness, Principal Lawyer, Legal Services, Gloucestershire County Council, Shire Hall, Westgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 2TG.

Email: carrie.denness@gloucestershire.gov.uk.

Call for Road Safety Champion

This week at Shire Hall a proposal had been made for the creation of a Road Safety Champion for Gloucestershire.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with residents and councillors from along the A436

Latest figures reveal that the number of killed and seriously injured people in the county last year was 207. But, the County Council has set itself a ‘target’ of 141. The number of killed and seriously injured older people was 48. This was double the County Council’s own ‘target’. This comes on the back of equally disturbing figures over the last few years.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson questioned the current Cabinet Member responsible for road safety about what the Council was actually doing to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“Any road accident is certainly one too many and although I am pleased that over the last 10 years casualties on our county’s roads have reduced, the county council target has nevertheless been consistently missed in the last 3 years. Recently, rural roads such as the A429 Fosse Way have seen a major increase in deaths. Other roads in Gloucestershire including the A48 in the Forest of Dean have also seen regular road safety issues.

“I have therefore called for a Road Safety Champion who will work with the Council’s road safety team focusing specifically on this alarming trend and ultimately to save lives.

“This Champion would be a County Councillor who would really tackle this problem and provide a focal point for reducing accidents.

“We hope our request is reasonable and that whoever runs the administration after May’s elections will seriously consider the creation of this new role to promote road safety and make a decision on this as soon as possible.”

Take control back of our roads

Liberal Democrats have announced bold plans to bring the county’s roads and footways back under the control of the County Council.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) has pledged to look at how the county’s highway services can be taken back in-house rather than extend the existing contract with Amey.

Since April 2014, Amey has taken responsibility for managing and maintaining Gloucestershire’s highway network, which includes nearly 10,000km of roads, as well as providing winter maintenance services and delivering highway improvement schemes.

The contract, which runs for 5 years with possible extensions up to 11 years, is currently being reviewed by the county’s Highways Commissioning Team. Councillors are due to decide in the early summer whether to extend the contract for a further 3 years or to terminate it in 2018/19. Due to the length of time it takes to re-tender the highways contract the decision to extend  it needs to be taken between 18 and 24 months prior to the end of the 5 year period.

Amey’s performance over the years has been regularly criticised by both the Liberal Democrats and by parish councils and residents. Targets for filling potholes were repeatedly missed by the private contractor until recently.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson said:

“There is an unfounded acceptance that private companies such as Amey are cheaper and more efficient than the public sector. Many councils up and down the country are however taking public services back in-house. There are substantial cost savings being achieved as a result of ‘insourcing’ and those councils that have brought services back in-house are delivering higher quality services.

“In 2011, Cumbria, Ealing and Rotherham all brought their highways back in-house. Cumbria’s reason was simply to allow greater control and ability to deliver efficiency savings. Councils have fallen out of love with outsourcing vital services and fed up with private contractors failing to deliver. Amey is certainly no exception.

“Right from the beginning of the Amey contract, we saw many so called ‘teething troubles’, but problems escalated.

“The teething problems have become a nagging toothache requiring much needed treatment. We should not be railroaded into thinking that extending the contract with Amey or retendering and mobilising a new contract with another private contractor are our only options.

“I have serious misgivings in extending the contract with Amey and have therefore pledged to ask council officers to work on the option of bringing our highways back in-house if the Lib Dems form an administration at Shire Hall after the May local elections.

“Let’s take back control of our roads.”

Speed gates come to the Churn Valley

Road safety has been an ongoing concern for residents who live along the A435 in the Churn Valley.

key_northcerneygates

In particular the speed of traffic going through North Cerney. There have been regular speed checks by the police and community which show a small but persistent number of drivers exceeding the 40mph limit.

The centre of the village sees pedestrians including school children crossing the road to catch buses, a busy junction into the village and accessing the pub and primary school.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson discussed these issues with North Cerney Parish Council last year and – after meeting Highways on site – agreed to jointly fund a set of 4 gates at either end of the village. These gates are a feature of some other villages in the Cotswolds and the aim is to alert drivers to the fact they’re entering a village environment and a lower speed limit.

The gates have been jointly funded by Paul with the small pot of money he gets each year to fund highways projects, North Cerney Parish Council and Gloucestershire Highways.

The good news is that all 4 gates are now in place.

Further up the A435 heading to Cheltenham, two trial gates have been installed approaching the turning into Rendcomb. The aim of these is once again to slow traffic after numerous complaints about difficulties in exiting the junction there safely. These gates have also been jointly funded with Rendcomb Parish Council.

Council rakes in millions from parking

Nearly £10 million profit has been produced from council parking operations over the last five years in Gloucestershire.  

car-parking-fines

The figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats also show just under £2.5million was made both in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016.

Reference will be made to this huge sum of money by the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) in a question directed to parking bosses at next Wednesday’s County Council Cabinet Meeting.

In commenting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“Next week, I’ll be challenging the Cabinet Member for parking to provide me with details of exactly what this surplus in parking has been spent on over the last few years.

“I’m aware that any profit generated must by law be spent on transport-related activities. It would however be good to see precisely those things that have been funded from money created from parking charges and penalty notices.

“Nearly £10 million is indisputably a huge amount of money. Gloucestershire was ranked 79 out of 353 councils in England with the largest parking surpluses. It could and should have been seen as making a very real difference in Gloucestershire, but I’m at a loss to see exactly what benefit this money has actually had. I’m dissatisfied and frustrated that the roads across the county are still dreadful. Where has this massive profit gone?

“The Conservatives have had 12 years in power on Gloucestershire County Council to get this right and they’ve simply failed to sort out the roads and pavements despite this windfall.

“I am saddened that we haven’t seen significant road improvements reflecting this significant sum of money generated from people who have paid for parking charges and penalty notices.

“Only a total change of approach will end the vicious cycle of potholed roads and ever increasing parking profits.”

Council pays out thousands of pounds for pothole damage

Nearly £18,000 of taxpayers’ money has been paid out to drivers for pothole damage in Gloucestershire.

PaulPothole2016

The figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire County Council show that £17,774 has been paid in compensation to motorists for pothole-related damage over the last three years.

Now, the county’s Liberal Democrats have expressed bitter disappointment with the Conservative controlled Council for not properly investing in the area’s roads. 

Liberal Democrat Shadow for Highways, Cllr. Chris Coleman (St Mark’s and St Peter’s) said:

“A total of 1,713 unsurprisingly annoyed drivers made claims for compensation between November 2013 and November 2016. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, whether they are motorists, councils or taxpayers.

“People already have to fork out so much to drive a car, the least they should expect is that their vehicle doesn’t get ruined by a bumpy road.

“Thousands of pounds are now being spent on pay-outs that could have been invested instead in fixing our roads.

“Roads should be fixed quickly so this compensation does not have to be paid out in the first place.

“It is about time the Conservatives sorted out our county roads for good.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) added:

“The volume of claims is large for A roads. I’m not at all surprised given the correspondence I get regularly from constituents who have damaged their cars driving through potholes.

“The spike in claims in Spring 2016 reflects the massive backlog in repairs which GCC’s roads contractor Amey was experiencing. It also came at the end of a very wet winter when so many potholes appeared.

“It highlights a failure by the Conservatives who have been responsible for roads in the county for the last 12 years. They need to invest more in road maintenance and improve the quality of repairs. It is the number one thing people raise with me and it has to improve.”

Nationally a total of £12 million has been paid out over the last four years on pothole compensation, with an average payment per person of £650.

Call for lower speed limit

Residents have called for greater road safety in the village of Perrotts Brook near Cirencester.

SR_8557_001     Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Cllr Nigel Robbins and Theo Hare,centre right, with copies of the petition to reduce the speed limit on Welsh Way at Perrott's Brook with some of the local residents

A petition of 70 names, gathered by local businessman Theo Hare, lobbies Gloucestershire Highways to cut the speed limit amidst concerns over the ways vehicles drive through the village.

Now, County Councillors Paul Hodgkinson and Nigel Robbins have backed residents and will be presenting the petition to December’s Council meeting.

Cllr Hodgkinson says the current system of speed limits is bizarre: “You have a situation at the moment where drivers are legally limited to 50mph on the busy main road between Cheltenham and Cirencester but in the narrow lanes of the village they can drive faster!

“It’s no wonder that residents complain of near-misses and feel unsafe as they walk and cycle.

“What we need is for Highways to listen and do something about this strange anomaly. People’s safety has to take priority and it’s totally reasonable to ask drivers to slow down a bit as they go through the village.”