Pot holes in CSP
The Parish Council are in full agreement with the residents of the village that our roads have been neglected and need corrective action. The Council wrote to our Bucks County Councillor for Chalfont St Peter with a number of questions, which he duly responded to, see below.
- Is there any point in reporting potholes any more? There used to be a sporadic response, but now there seems to be none.
The County Council has experienced a 300% increase in defect reporting in the period from December to the end of March (last data available). These reports emanate from both our own highways inspections and those reported by the public using the Fix My Street tool on the County Council’s website.
Our responsibility is to ensure that the highway is maintained in a safe condition and that responsibility is discharged by a test of reasonableness that can be challenged in the courts. In instances such as those experienced over the past winter we have had to focus our resource on those defects that are most likely to cause damage or injury, this means that we have been working to keep our main roads and link roads clear of dangerous defects. It does mean that we have had to leave defects in quieter roads and culs-de-sac longer than we would prefer to leave them.
The County Council has recognised the problems that exist on the network and has made available around £3M (of which £1.2M has been drawn down from reserves) that is being used to fund a plane and patch programme across the network, the focus of which is on the B, C and unclassified network. A good deal of work has already been completed, mainly in the north of the county, and work has commenced in the south.
- How does BCC justify saying they will not pay compensation if a pothole has not been previously reported? How is it that responsibility has now been passed to the public?
The County Council relies upon Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 as its defence when it is being sued for damage arising from potholes.
58 Special defence in action against a highway authority for damages for non-repair of highway.
(1) In an action against a highway authority in respect of damage resulting from their failure to maintain a highway maintainable at the public expense it is a defence (without prejudice to any other defence or the application of the law relating to contributory negligence) to prove that the authority had taken such care as in all the circumstances was reasonably required to secure that the part of the highway to which the action relates was not dangerous for traffic.
(2) For the purposes of a defence under subsection (1) above, the court shall in particular have regard to the following matters:—
(a) the character of the highway, and the traffic which was reasonably to be expected to use it;
(b) the standard of maintenance appropriate for a highway of that character and used by such traffic;
(c) the state of repair in which a reasonable person would have expected to find the highway;
(d) whether the highway authority knew, or could reasonably have been expected to know, that the condition of the part of the highway to which the action relates was likely to cause danger to users of the highway;
(e) where the highway authority could not reasonably have been expected to repair that part of the highway before the cause of action arose, what warning notices of its condition had been displayed;
but for the purposes of such a defence it is not relevant to prove that the highway authority had arranged for a competent person to carry out or supervise the maintenance of the part of the highway to which the action relates unless it is also proved that the authority had given him proper instructions with regard to the maintenance of the highway and that he had carried out the instructions.
In short, because the County Council can demonstrate that it has a system of inspection and repair in place then it has a defence against claims made. This is important as some of our roads, residential culs-de-sac and the like, are only inspected once per year so defects may form in the interim that we won’t see until perhaps almost a year later, hence the importance of public reporting. In the main our A class and busy B class roads are inspected 12 times per annum, quieter B class and busy C and U class roads are inspected 4 times per annum with the bulk of the remainder being inspected once per annum.
- Why does BCC still bother to identify potholes one-by-one for repair, in what appears to be random order? Any road, anywhere, has potholes that need repair, so why does it still persist in all the road team travelling from place to place, setting up in each location for one repair and wasting idle time? Just set up in an area and follow the trail of holes. So much more efficient
In times of low demand the approach outlined above works and works well, it allows our teams to deploy the most appropriate piece of equipment to repair the road as efficiently as possible. In times of high demand it is important that we focus on those defects that are likely to cause damage or injury, hence the fix one, miss five, fix one approach. We are aware of the inefficiency, but do need to balance that against our duty to protect the public.
- Does BCC still endorse the temporary filling of potholes, in the full knowledge that they are only a short-term-measure and the excuse that a decent repair is not needed as they will soon be repaired by planing and resurfacing, which they won’t; we all know that?
There are times of the year where temporary filling of defects is unavoidable, these being periods where temperatures are depressed and hot material should not be laid because it cools too rapidly and prevents proper compaction. That said material technology has moved on and we are now in a position where “temporary” macadams are at a point where they can, provided that the proper preparation is undertaken, be considered as permanent repairs on the lower class of roads. The problems with any repair failing are generally associated with workmanship, if the hole isn’t properly cleaned and appropriately coated, if the material is compacted insufficiently (because it’s too cold or poor training/ supervision), if the incorrect repair system is selected then the repair will fail prematurely.
- Instead of a 10% potholes/90% resurfacing mix, why doesn’t BCC switch to a 15%/85% regime? The 50% increase in potholes means they can be repaired permanently and the 6% percent reduction in resurfacing will barely be noted.
The County Council adopts sound asset management principles and does not agree that increasing the numbers of potholes repaired will impact positively on the network. We have, as described above, invested an additional sum of money to address “defect farms”, thereby removing failed and failing material and replacing it with good quality hot applied, compacted material. Our work over the past seven years has shown a significant improvement in the classified network, with the condition of these roads now being on a par with neighbouring authorities. Work to address the poor condition of the unclassified network continues, we are starting from a low base and the actual amount of resource available does mean that we are “only” able to invest around £4M in improvement work as the network requires approx. £11M to “standstill”.
- It is clear to all road users that the current regime of repairing is a bad use of resources and wastes money that could be spent on better repairs. Is this regime set knowingly by BCC or does Ringway have the control and BCC cannot alter it?
The County Council is working with Ringway Jacobs to develop and implement both the better use of its workforce and the range of treatments and repair options that are available to its reactive teams to effect repairs on the network.
In terms of the broader surfacing and other structural maintenance works that are undertaken the County Council is well served by its provider.
- What is being done to change the current practice of temporary repairs and when will it happen?
We have commenced on an Improvement Programme with our provider, this will shortly be discussed at the Council’s Transportation, Environment and Communities Committee in the next couple of weeks. The focus of the improvement programme sits around 4 key areas, Customer, Value for Money, Quality and Innovation.
- What is the purpose of the emergency telephone number? It took a very persistent person 2 days to get through – what if it really was a major emergency?
The County Council has, just like many other companies and authorities, attempted to apply “channel shift” in the way that the public interact with us. Our focus in Bucks was Report It and has now moved to Fix My Street. Unfortunately the emergency number is being used by individuals to report non emergency type defects, this does mean that it can be difficult to get through to report what are actual emergencies. Major emergencies are more than likely to be reported via other channels and authorities. Having said that, I would be interested in discussing this with the person who claimed it took two days to get through. I test the duty engineer’s emergency number frequently and have always found it answered immediately – 01296 486630