Committee Report NSC

†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Item 7.3

North Somerset Council

 

REPORT TO THE Strategic planning and economic development policy and scrutiny panel

 

Date of Meeting: 1 July 2008

 

Subject of Report: report of the roads maintenance working group

 

Town or parish: all

 

Officer/Member presenting: chair of the working group, cllr cook

 

Key Decision: NO

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

  1. That the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel agrees the recommendations of the working group set out below and refer them to the Executive Member Councillors Ap Rees, for consideration and action.

 

  1. That following consideration of the report the Executive Member reports back to the panel within 2 months with a response to the recommendations.

 

  1. That the Panel agrees that the Road Maintenance Working Group further investigates the following issues:

ō      The pricing structure which contractors use when charging the Council;

ō      Right of way/footpath maintenance;

ō      Keeping rural public roads safe including raising land owner awareness of ways to improve the condition of the roads.

 

Recommendations:

Timescale

Action By

  1.  

That officers brief the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel about the time scales for completing 1) the Asset Management Policy and 2) a transparent plan of how the Council will prioritise road work projects.

2 months

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

That local people and Parish Councils are encouraged to take an active interest in their local roads networks. This to include highlighting areas of concern to the council as well as working in partnership with the local community to improve and maintain the road network.

Ongoing

Parish Councils

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

That officers set up a priority defect reporting system for receiving local knowledge of flaws in the road network and a systematised way of responding to local reports.

6 months

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

That officers create a communications strategy for how to publish information about planned road works. Plans could be communicated via the mediums of North Somerset Life magazine, the council website and the local press.

6 months

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

Marketing and Communications Team

  1.  

That officers introduce a quality assurance regime for receiving public feedback on major road work, for example carrying out surveys.

6 months

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

Investigation of other areas of funding in order to 1) intensify the road works programme, and 2) enable more road repairs in conservation areas where maintenance costs are particularly high.

Ongoing

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

That Planning Officers consults the Highways Maintenance Team when considering new developments to ensure that road maintenance issues are taken into account.

Ongoing

Executive

Director of Development and Environment

  1.  

That the Executive considers how the Council can consult the National Farmers Union and Country Land and Business Association about how to best promote the conservation of rural networks.

6 months

Executive

 

1.                Summary of Report

The Working Group has investigated how North Somersetís roads are currently maintained. The aim was to establish whether the roadsí condition could be improved through better policies, decisions or other actions taken by the Council.

 

2.                Policy

One of the Councilís nine corporate priorities is to improve the areaís roads.

 

Road maintenance policies such as the National Standards and Codes of Practice are set by Central Government (Department for Transport). The Council should have a Highways Maintenance Plan aligning our budget allocation to these policies. The Highways Maintenance Team is currently developing an Asset Management Strategy which will help to develop such a Plan.

 

3.                Details

3.1           The Councilís Responsibilities

The Council is responsible for maintaining public highways in a safe condition. Roads maintenance work is carried out by the Streets and Open Spaces Highways Maintenance Team. The Team inspects and monitors the condition of the public highways; prioritises repairs using national guidelines; and plans annual maintenance programmes. It is also responsible for co-ordinating and inspecting road works carried out by utility companies across North Somerset.

 

3.2           Working Group Investigations

The Working Group looked at:

ō      Funding of road maintenance

ō      How the Highways Maintenance Team prioritises funds

ō      How repairs are carried out and their standard

ō      Procurement and quality assurance

ō      Improvement and maintenance costs

ō      Asset management

ō      Current and Potential Use of local knowledge.

 

The Group also wanted to assess public footpath maintenance, but due to time constraints, this was not carried out. The Group recommends that further investigations into this area are carried out.

 

Funding

The Highways Maintenance Team has two types of income:

1)     Capital allocations, which they receive from Central Government and North Somerset Council to provide an increase in the life of the assets through structural repairs. The Government evaluates the roads via best value performance indicators, and their funding levels depend on improvements to the indicator scores. The Team has improved its performance indicator scores over the last years.

2)     Revenue, which the Team receives annually as part of the Councilís budget. The revenue goes towards different types of work, such as:

        Structural (footway; carriageway; drainage repairs and schemes; surface treatments; patching; Disability Discrimination Act provisions; technical services)

        Routine (patching; minor works; emergency response; area working; drainage cleaning; gully emptying)

        Environmental (verge maintenance)

        Safety (cats eyes; lines and signs)

        Winter (standby and operational costs; vehicle and plant charges)

        Traffic Management (improvements to signing and lining)

        Enforcement (coastal management; land drainage; and standing charges)

 

Prioritising funds

The Team allocates its revenue between these areas once a year. Annual surveys of the areaís roads affect how the team allocates their resources. The carriage way surveys measure surface deterioration and skid resistance. Surveys are expensive and as such, the Team chooses to survey unclassified roads visually only.

 

How repairs are carried out

The Highways Maintenance Team applies different treatments to the highway network. To deliver the Councilís duty to maintain highways in a safe condition, some problems need immediate emergency responses, such as potholes, missing covers, fallen trees, and floods. Immediate responses are expensive and as such, the Team has to focus on dangerous spots. Legal definitions determine when a situation is dangerous. For example, a pothole in a road must, as a minimum, have the following dimensions:[1]

 

Picture 1: Pothole dimensions

 

Picture 2 below shows a pothole identified as in need of urgent ďmake safeĒ repair. This means the Rapid Response Crew has to attend to the defect within 1 hour. Picture 3 shows how the intermediate repair is carried out. The Crew fills the hole with temporary material, makes it compact and sweeps the area. The total operation takes 10-15 minutes.

 


Picture 2: Pothole in need of immediate, temporary repair

 

Picture 3: Immediate, temporary repairing of dangerous pothole

 

Lately, more people have claimed compensation after accidents caused by rocking slabs and covers.

 


Procurement and Quality Assurance

The highway maintenance work is carried out by companies, which the Council has a contract with. These contracts are due for renewal in 2009.

 

The Highways Maintenance Team quality assures the companiesí work. They supervise and monitor their work via key performance indicators and officers have regular contract management meetings with the contractors.

 

The Team also co-ordinates and inspects the work carried out by utility companies. National procedures allow local authorities to look at 10% of the companiesí road openings, both during work and after completion. If the work falls beneath minimum performance levels, the Council serves the company an improvement notice.

 

A member of the Working Group attended a contract management meeting. He verifies that the officers hold contractors responsible for their work and enforce expected performance levels.

 

However, the current quality assurance regime doesnít include systematic collections of residentsí views and satisfaction levels. Other Local Authorities carry out feedback surveys after major road works, and whilst the response rate can be low, the experience is that surveys have merit in 1) communicating that the work is done; 2) indicating satisfaction levels, and 3) raising any issues that may need to be brought to contractorsí notice. The Working Group therefore recommends that the Development and Environment Directorate considers collecting and using customer feedback after major road works.

 

Standards

As the Councilís performance indicator scores are high and contract management is efficient, the Working Group looked elsewhere to understand why the standard of the areaís roads is unsatisfactory to many residents. The Working Group has been looking at the standards, set by Central Government, which contractors have to meet. On average, repair works to North Somersetís roads last about four years. In addition, the companies carrying out the work have to deliver a 12 month guarantee for the repairs. Both seem low, however, Council Officers maintain that four years is a good period for a repair on the lower classification of road to last. They also state that when repairs fail, itís usually because the repair, made of new materials, is put into a road that is well beyond its sell-by date. As a result the road around and under the patch repair often fails. Sometimes that causes the new patch to fall out. However, the Team is now using modern / higher performance materials for repairs and if laid correctly, patches made of this material should last longer.

 

Improvement and Maintenance Costs

The backlog of old roads in need of repairs and replacements is extensive. Most roads are old and never meant to carry the current amount and weight of vehicles. As a result, the costs of bringing the road network up to date are very high:

 

ō      Repairing all defects on the carriage ways would cost approximately £80 million

ō      Repairing the complete road network would cost approximately £140 million.

 

Keeping the carriage ways up to their current condition costs £1.2 million per year. In addition, keeping status quo on unclassified roads costs £0.5 million per year.[2]

†††††††††††

Funding road works in the Conservation Areas in Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and Portishead is particularly challenging. On a site visit the Working Group discovered that road works in Conservation Areas carry extra high costs as they have to give regard to preservation issues, for example by working around trees and using special materials.

 

Introducing Asset Management

Broadly speaking, asset management is:

ďa strategic approach that identifies the optimal allocation of resources for the management, operation, preservation and enhancement of the highway infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future customers.Ē[3]

 

More specifically, it is the end to end processes that are applied to any given asset (for example a road) throughout its life, in other words its whole life cycle cost. Managing assets is about managing the business interventions in terms of inspection, maintenance and renewals over the assetís expected lifetime to improve the highway infrastructure.

 

North Somerset Council has recently employed a Highways Asset Management Officer who is developing the asset plans contained in the Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP). To optimise allocation of resources, the Maintenance Team needs to know which assets it has and the condition they are in, and as such, the Asset Management Officerís first task is to fully capture and record the Councilís highway assets. This will form the bedrock of future maintenance plans. It is a substantial task and is likely to take up to two years to complete. The Working Group acknowledges this work, and recommends that the Development and Environment Directorate presents a more detailed programme and time scale for the project to the Strategic Development and Economic Planning Policy and Scrutiny Panel.

 

Use of Local Knowledge

For the management of our roads to be effective, the Highways Maintenance Team needs thorough knowledge of the area and local needs. With 1,100 kilometres of road in North Somerset, gaining detailed knowledge is a challenge. The annual surveys give a snapshot of the road conditions on one day of the year but between surveys the Council depends on people with local knowledge. In many cases, Councillors and Officers have extensive knowledge that informs overall strategies. But residents and Parish Councillors have substantial knowledge on the state of the roads in their areas, and the Working Groupís investigation suggests that their knowledge is not being fully utilised.

 

In December 2007 the Working Group met with Parish Councillors in order to understand and discuss their current role in the Councilís road maintenance scheme. The overwhelming message coming from this meeting was that there was a need for better communication between local councils and North Somerset Council, both in terms of:

 

Particular areas of concern were:

ō      Pavements

ō      Inconsistent communication with NS

ō      Longer term planned maintenance

ō      Lack of responses to Parish councillors

ō      Inaccurate filling of potholes

ō      Flooding due to blocked drains

ō      Increase in heavy goods vehicles particularly across the moors

ō      Verge cutting on roads.

 

The Working Group feels that a stronger system for gathering local knowledge about the state of the areaís roads could improve the Councilís asset management. With the Area Inspector Scheme, a communication system between Parish Councillors and Council Officers already exists. The Working Group realises the Parish Councillors would be unable to keep an eye on all roads in their area. Therefore, the Group suggests that Parish Councillors consider setting up local reporting schemes, whereby local residents would report to their Parish Councillors on any problems in for example two or three roads. The Parish Councillors could then report this to their Area Inspector, who would take it to Council Officers. This would ensure that Council Officers have up-to-date information on local needs.

 

The Working Group also finds that communication from the Council to local residents about upcoming work affecting their roads is limited. People experience that when they obtain information, it is often by chance and not as part of a planned communication from the Council. The Councilís Website has a weekly road report where work is announced. However, only current work and work commencing within a week is on the list. Also, not all people have access to the Internet.

 

Better and broader information would give residents time to adjust and find alternative routes whilst the work is undertaken. It would also help managing expectations.

 

3.3           Conclusions

In order to ensure good roads, it is crucial that:

 

The Highways Maintenance Team carries out statutory work and manages contractors and utility companies well. The current problems stem from lack of maintenance over several years, which has left the Council which is a huge backlog of issues. The estimated total cost of rectifying all outstanding issues is £80 million (carriageways only). As such, an important way of improving the road network is to secure more funding.

 

So far, the Council hasnít had an overall strategy on managing its highway assets. This is currently being rectified by the Asset Management Officer who has started mapping out the assets and their condition.

 

One area where current procedures could be improved is the Councilís communication strategy and the involvement of Parish Councils. Parish Councillors are encouraged to set up local monitoring schemes and feed back problems via the Area Inspectors. And the Working Group recommends that the Council introduces a strategy for 1) responding to residentsí report about flaws and dangerous spots; 2) informing the public about upcoming road works; and 3) collecting public feedback on major works.

 

4.                Consultation

In order to draw their conclusions, the working group met with a number of Expert Witnesses, both internal to the organisation and external.The working group would like to thank the following for the information they supplied:

ō      North Somerset Councilís Streets and Open Spaces Officers

ō      The National Farmers Union

ō      The areaís Parish Councils.

 

5.                Financial Implications

The cost of maintaining our roads has risen substantially since the late 1990s. Many of the products, which the Highways Maintenance Team uses, are derived from oil and they have experienced a 34% increase in prices since the current contracts were agreed in 2003.

 

Also, there is TAR in the Teamís work material adding 25% to the disposal costs.

 

Furthermore, the network is extended by approximately 5 km per year, adding to the Teamís work load. There is also an increasing workload arising from the installation of traffic calming measures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


6.                RISK MANAGEMENT

Risks associated with highways in poor conditions.

 

7.                Equality Implications

None specifically associated with this investigation.

 

8.                Corporate Implications

N/A

 

9.                Options considered

Members considered maintaining the current arrangements, but this is an option they have rejected.

 


Author

 

Working group membership:

Cllr Bob Cook (chairman)

Cllr Tony Moulin

Cllr Keith Morris

 

Contact Officer:

Jo Gadegaard

Scrutiny and performance Officer

( 01275 884282
8 Jo.Gadegaard@n-somerset.gov.uk

 

 



[1] Other dimensions apply to footways.

[2] No calculations available for B and C roads.

[3] CSS Framework for Highway Asset Management, June 2004.