At the last committee meeting, Members requested that an invitation to this meeting be passed to County Councillor Rodney Bass, Portfolio Holder for Highways and Transportation to discuss the general condition of the roads, in particular potholes. Councillor Bass has confirmed his attendance.
The Chairman welcomed County Councillor R Bass, Essex County Council Portfolio Holder for Transportation and Highways.
County Councillor R Bass congratulated the Chairman on being recently appointed as Chairman of Council and hoped that he would have a happy year in office. County Councillor R Bass stated that it was a great privilege to attend this meeting, the county of Essex had 5,200 miles of roads and 6,000 miles of public rights of way. The county was one of the biggest local authorities in Europe which illustrated the size of the problem which his portfolio was tasked with tackling. He received 300 emails per day regarding highways issues and although he had been criticised in the press for not always responding to enquiries, it was impossible for him know every detail of the county’s road problems.
There was a 2 year programme to improve the county’s road. Because of the back log of work, officers were playing catch up with the workload. He acknowledged that the situation was getting worse. It would take 2 years to make the improvements he intended to make.
The roads would be re-prioritised to:
(1) Priority Route 1 – A roads;
(2) Priority Route 2 – B roads; and
(3) Local routes.
The local routes were suburban estate type roads.
Defects on Priority 1 and 2 roads would be repaired within 28 days. Every defect on these roads would be repaired this year. He emphasised that estate roads were not the same priority and therefore would wait longer for repair work. Priority 1 and 2 made up 40% of the county’s roads, there were too many roads to repair.
He advised that he would repair all defects including footways, drainage, road markings on the worst 100 roads in the county, 10 of which were within Epping Forest. 60 of the worse estate roads would be comprehensively repaired this year. The County Council website would contain these highways earmarked for priority. He added that these priorities were not determined by himself but by the severity of the road conditions.
The Portfolio Holder informed members that there were conflicting financial priorities with other services. Sacrifices by other County Cabinet Portfolio Holders had been made in order to support Transportation and Highways. However, he said that his portfolio had made important savings by switching off street lights between midnight and 5.00a.m., £1.3 million would be saved per annum.
The Government had awarded £8 million to spend on defects, with the County Council awarding a further £9.5 million, making £17.5 million extra for repairs, the grand total being £32 million.
The County Council had expanded the 4 man work gangs repairing defects from 16 to 38. An extra £1 million was being spent on white road markings. Although these would only be spend on Priority 1 and 2 roads.
The Chairman thanked the Portfolio Holder for his presentation. The committee went on to ask questions.
(a) Ongar Town Councillor B Surtees asked about the poor repair work in rural areas he had experienced recently, which had taken a long time to complete. In addition road repairs undertaken were not always linked to drainage repairs. The Councillor commented on the short length of Zebra crossing markings.
County Councillor R Bass advised that the standard of repairs had much improved over the year and the County Council were in partnership with a company who though at the forefront of road technology were being held to account by the authority. New Government legislation had been introduced controlling the right of utility companies to make repairs irrespective of the highways authority. There would now be a permit scheme whereby utility companies would be required to request permission before undertaking road work and could be charged, particularly if their work overran.
(b) The new road hierarchy prioritisation could lead to conflict with Parish Councils.
County Councillor R Bass advised that there has been no direct consultation with local councils, there had been consultation with County and District Councils. There simply wasn’t enough time. Individuals could approach him if a priority was incorrect.
(c) Damaged footways and pavements that were not in the Priority 1 and 2 category could cause trips and falls, of which there were a high number in the area.
County Councillor R Bass advised that there was a separate budget for footways and pavements. He supported undertaking footway work in estate roads alongside general repairs of those roads.
(d) Were yellow lines the responsibility of Highways or North East Parking Partnerships?
County Councillor R Bass said that the Parking Partnerships dealt with yellow lines and disabled parking bays. There would be a review of the partnerships before April 2015. Each district should play a full part with their partnership representatives. The Local Highways Panel would deal with residents parking permit schemes.
(e) Were there on-line maps indicating roads earmarked for repair available? The Roydon/Nazeing area had a glasshouse industry with HGV access causing problems in rural areas.
County Councillor R Bass said that HGVs were permitted to use the highways, they were sustaining the local economy. However, as Portfolio Holder he may consider imposing restrictions on them.
(f) The Vice Chairman asked if the Highways and Transportation Portfolio included cutting back grass verges along the A414 between Writtle and Ongar. Bollards were destroyed or damaged and road signs needed cleaning.
County Councillor R Bass advised that there was a service level agreement whereby county paid the District Council to manage additional cuts a year. The District Council augments the sum. The Highways Rangers were operated by the Local Highways Panel which was a County Council responsibility. The District Council sponsored work on roundabout greens. He added that £50,000 had been invested by the County Council into vegetation control and drainage which hopefully would be matched by the District Council, making a total of £100,000 a larger sum than the £80,000 spent by the Highways Rangers.