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.

Pothole hell

As the winter drags on, there’s one thing you can’t avoid on Gloucestershire’s roads – potholes.

Now, with complaints from residents rising, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is challenging the County Council to sort out the roads properly.

He’s submitted a question which will be answered at the next County Council meeting on 14 February:

‘With the number of potholes at an alarming level on the back of a colder winter, residents are rightly angry at bills for shredded tyres and damaged suspension. We are all spending time swerving to avoid craters in the road, making driving dangerous and unpredictable. New ways of repairing roads are being launched including using plastic instead of tarmac – which not only lasts much longer but reuses plastics which have been much in the news recently as polluting the planet.

“I’m asking highways bosses whether they will be actively looking at using plastics, thereby promoting reuse and stopping this yearly cycle of unsafe road surfaces.

“In my view no amount of warm words from the County Council’s Conservative administration can cover up the dire state of our roads and pavements. Every year we face these unsafe roads at the end of winter yet nothing changes.”

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.”

Council rakes in millions from parking

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

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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.

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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.

New figures show pothole failure

A new set of figures released by Gloucestershire County Council shows targets for pothole repairs being missed again. PaulPothole

In spite of a recent report highlighting successes that include the repair of 49,195 potholes, the Liberal Democrats have said the latest public figures show “something very different” in that still there is failure to achieve set performance targets.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach), last year called for the county’s highways contract with Amey to be closely monitored and for financial penalties to be imposed if performance targets were not consistently achieved in 2015/2016.

Speaking about the latest key performance indicators for roads at a recent full council meeting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“The indicators publicly reveal that there are areas within highways where targets have simply not been met, and in other areas they have fallen alarmingly short. For example, the target to repair road defects within 3 months is 95%, yet the performance is just 68%. It seems that due to resources being put to repair the biggest potholes, this actual outcome is woefully poor. You only have to look at the smaller roads in particular to see that there is a failure to get this right.

“We’re told that additional resources have been secured to resolve this backlog, and we hope to see it reduce over the coming months, but we’ll be watching closely. Residents want roads they can drive on without having to avoid dangerous potholes.

“The indicators also reveal that repairs to roads required within 28 days are below target. This really has to get better.

“It’s about time that the Cabinet Member for Highways and Flood stopped pretending that everything in the garden is rosy with the roads contractor Amey when clearly these indicators show it’s not.

“The highways performance indicators also show that in terms of county councillor and parish council satisfaction, this is also slipping.

“With the review of the highway contract fast approaching Amey need to step up to the mark and really show improvements in their performance.”

Broken Promise, Broken Roads

Today, Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative bosses voted to slash money for road repairs.

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The Council’s Cabinet has put forward a budget which cuts money going to highways by over £2 million in the coming year.

Challenging the decision, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“In the last County Council elections in 2013 the Tories pledged to ‘invest more in our roads’. Sadly today they have broken that promise.

“We’re all painfully aware of how our roads are deteriorating at the end of a long, wet winter. Potholes are popping up all over the place.

“This is always the thing residents raise with me most. In fact, the Council’s own budget consultation shows that it’s one of the Top 5 things people want money spent on.

“Yet now we see a huge cut in the money going to fix our pavements and streets. It’s not rocket science to see that money could be found from other budgets to fix the potholes properly.

“I call now for an immediate U turn on this cut. Otherwise it is a case of ‘Broken promise, broken roads.’

 

Pull your socks up, roads contractor told

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson received cross-party support yesterday for a call to monitor more closely Gloucestershire’s highways contract with Amey. He also received backing to continue imposing financial penalties if performance targets are not consistently achieved in the upcoming 2015/2016 financial year.

The long awaited debate coinciding with World Pothole Day regarding the condition of Gloucestershire roads was finally discussed with contributions made from elected members across all political parties.

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Shadow Cabinet Member for Highways and Flood, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-water and Northleach) who led the call said that:

“This debate has been a long time coming, but I’m pleased that elected representatives have finally had a chance to voice in public their concerns and frustrations regarding the county’s highways contract with Amey.

“The very fact that my request for closer monitoring of the contract and for financial penalties to be imposed if they don’t keep up with high performance has received such support from all sides of the chamber tells me that there are still many problems that need addressing.

“I’m particularly pleased that the Cabinet Member for Highways has finally taken off his ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ to see that something needs to be done. It is time that Amey pulled up their socks and get on with the job that Gloucestershire’s residents, businesses and visitors all deserve.

 

Call for roads to be fixed to boost cycling

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with residents along the Churn Valley cycle and walkers route.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with residents along the Churn Valley cycle and walkers route.

Data supplied by the National Office of Statistics shows that cycling to work has dropped by a massive 26% in the last ten years in the Cotswolds compared to a rise of 14% across the country.

Whilst the rest of the UK has had a bout of cycling fever on the back of Tour de France and Olympics success, Gloucestershire has lagged behind. Figures for the census period 2001-2011 announced on 26 March reveal that cities like Bristol saw a sharp increase of 94% in people cycling to work whilst the South West as a whole has seen a rise of 15%. In contrast, the Cotswolds has dropped at an alarming rate whilst nearby Tewkesbury dropped by 7% and only Cheltenham managed a 4% increase.

Now, Cotswolds Liberal Democrat MP hopeful Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (GCC, Bourton & Northleach) is calling for the County Council to use some of the cash from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to improve road conditions:

“Spending money on cycling is cost-effective.  It reduces traffic, improves air quality, and improves health for the cyclists and for anyone breathing the local air.  The figures show that when towns and villages spend time, effort and money, they have been rewarded.

“In rural areas the roads feel lethal. Friends who are “would-be-cyclists” won’t cycle anywhere whilst the roads feel so intimidating.  The A40 and A436 are two roads which see high speeds and it feels very unsafe to cycle. I cycle on roads but don’t feel very safe and would do more of it if the conditions were better.

“These new figures suggest that making rural roads pot hole free and providing space for cyclists does work. In the Churn Valley I set up a safer cycling group 5 years ago and we have used the existing bridlepath between Stratton and North Cerney to give a route for bikes and walkers which is away from cars. It has cost very little due to people giving their time for free and this could happen elsewhere in the county.

Paul Morrish, from Shipton is a regular cyclist and works in Cheltenham. He would like to see disused railways used for cycling, walking and horse-riding, particularly as rural communities grow bigger:

“In rural areas and towns there is a high perception of danger.  Vehicles are getting wider which means less space on the road for bikes, pedestrians or horses.  Pot-holes are potentially lethal to cyclists –  hit one and you can be thrown off, avoid one and you can be killed if you swerve.

“A collision between car and cyclist will inevitably leave the cyclist physically worse off, but can leave the driver with unresolvable guilt.  There are many more developments planned in rural areas but sustainable transport needs to be considered as part of that.“

Now Cllr Hodgkinson has written to the County Council’s Highways boss for more to be done to sort out potholes and to provide better routes for Gloucestershire’s cyclists:

“These figures show the county has a lot to do to improve conditions on its roads and to encourage people to cycle so they feel safe and able to do what the rest of the country is doing in ever greater numbers. Whilst cycling to work in rural areas will always be more difficult we can take steps to make it a real option for people whilst improving road conditions in the towns.”

Call for cash injection into roads

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is calling for a big investment in Gloucestershire’s roads to sort out the potholes which have plagued the area.

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The move is made in a notice of motion and a question being put to the full meeting of the County Council on June 19.

Gloucestershire’s roads have featured in lists of the worst highways in the country and have led to the County Council paying out money in compensation to drivers. Numerous potholes have developed due to the cold and wet winter and spring.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Paul Hodgkinson is concerned that much more needs to be done to bring the roads back to a safer standard: “Potholes can been very damaging and something needs to be done as soon as possible. They are really bad news for drivers and have become a huge problem in Gloucestershire, with some repairs to vehicles costing as much as £1,000 due to pothole damage.”

“The Council has reserves which it should use immediately to give Highways the boost in resource to fix our roads. We are looking to make these repairs ones that last. Too many of the repairs we see just ‘wash out’ after a few months – that can’t be good value for money! The whole process by which roads are mended needs looking at radically.” 

“This is an issue which goes across both rural and urban areas. Some roads in the Cotswolds have been riddled with craters and holes and, despite a lot of work being undertaken recently, we need a proper injection of cash to really bring our roads up to standard. It is the matter which people raised consistently on the doorstep during the recent local elections and it is our duty to act decisively to repair our roads properly.”

Notice of Motion

“This council notes that the number one issue on the doorstep in the recent County Council elections was the number of ‘potholes’ and other road damage found on Gloucestershire roads. That in order to address this number one issue and show the Council is listening, Cabinet immediately releases £4 million from Council reserves to be spent over the next two years on road repairs.”

Question from Cllr Paul Hodgkinson to Cllr Vernon Smith:

‘We all know the depth of feeling amongst residents over the state of our roads. The present system of marking up potholes to be fixed and then filling them with tarmac on a separate occasion does not inspire confidence, especially as many then have to be filled again after a short period. What changes are you going to make to the current flawed system to really address this problem?’