- Meeting of Environment and Living Scrutiny Committee, Tuesday 25th June 2019 6.30 pm (Item 4.)
To consider the attached report.
Note: Councillor Paul Irwin, the County Council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Transportation and Mr Keith Carpenter (Highways Asset Manager, Transport for Buckinghamshire) will be attending the meeting to provide Members with an update and to answer questions.
The Committee welcomed Mr Keith Carpenter (Highways Asset Manager, Transport for Buckinghamshire) who had been invited to give an update on Buckinghamshire County Council’s Highways Infrastructure Management Policies insofar as they related to Aylesbury Vale in particular and across the County generally. These policies described the principles adopted and applied to achieve the County Council’s highways maintenance objectives. Mr Carpenter was accompanied by Councillor Irwin, the County Council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for Transportation.
To give some context to the presentation, the Committee was advised as follows:-
· The County highways network stretched from busy areas inside the M25 to the more rural north of the County.
· There were around 3,200km of highways, over half of which were smaller roads, including 2,480km of footways, 6,000 illuminated signs, in excess of 28,000 street lights and 500 bridges.
The approved Asset Management Policy and Strategy set out how the County Council would maintain a safe road network, maximise carriageway availability, optimise the use of and protect natural resources and improve accessibility for all. There were a number of performance measures against which the success of dealing with defects within previously determined timescales could be assessed.
Road condition was measured for the classified road network using nationally recognised methods which recorded the condition of sections of road as red (worst), amber or green (best). Due to the timing of surveys they sometimes lagged behind the actual condition but the impact of increased investment was showing steady improvements across all classifications of roads over the last five years.
Unclassified roads were surveyed slightly differently, with categories being either poor or adequate. In 2013/2014, 33% of unclassified roads were in a poor condition compared to 29% in 2018/2019. Around 20% of footways were considered to be in poor condition, although for the more important footways, over 90% were either in good or fair condition.
Works to strategic roads were data led and by engagement with various stakeholders, including local elected Members and the County Council’s own Local Area Technicians. From the data sources used, a list of potential or candidate schemes was created.
Every year a proportion of roads were surveyed. For local roads this involved a visual inspection which collected information such as cracking or subsidence. For strategic roads, a more sophisticated approach was taken, using a specialist vehicle which deployed remote monitoring equipment. The data was then loaded into specialist software and mapped against the condition of the rest of the network.
The data was converted to a scoring system as described earlier in this Minute. The software used the defects identified to suggest an appropriate treatment and give an indicative cost of repair. There were, at the time the Committee report had been prepared 1,393 potential schemes on the strategic network.
The maintenance strategy adopted by the County Council recognised that prevention was better than cure. There were some types of defect which could not be left for safety reasons, whilst others could be repaired temporarily (and more cheaply) to prevent further deterioration. The County Council ensured that a proportion of the overall budget was spent on preventative repair/maintenance. This explained why, on some occasions, work was seen to be undertaken on roads that did not look as bad as others. This offered best value for money.
Schemes were usually ranked as follows:-
· Classification hierarchy.
· Condition data.
· Public requests.
· Reactive spend.
· Insurance claims.
· Safety (skid resistance).
As previously indicated, for local roads, the condition data was cruder. Also experience had shown that local knowledge, particularly from elected Members, was vital in determining actions/priorities. Members were however also consulted in relation to strategic schemes within their areas. Indeed, they were often asked to suggest priorities.
In summary a balanced approach was taken between prevention and cure and a different strategy applied to strategic and local roads. This enabled a list of priorities to be created for each County Electoral Division. These priorities were then combined with all strategic schemes to create a four year rolling programme. This enabled opportunities for collaborative working with other areas to be explored. The rolling programme was renewed every year in the light of changing circumstances.
The County Council concentrated resources on dealing with footways considered to be in the worst condition. All highway structures were inspected periodically. Street lighting replacements were prioritised according to condition and much of the funding was invested in upgrades such as LED units. Traffic signal replacement and refurbishments were assessed against a range of factors such as age, condition and maintenance record.
Some capital funding was provided by the Department for Transport, part of which was incentivised. The remainder was provided directly by the County Council. Different predictive models were used to inform decision making, thus allowing priorities to be balanced across the different asset groups. The Medium Term Financial Planning process was run each year to re-assess these priorities. It was indicated that at present funding levels, all of the assets, except carriageways, were in a slow but steady managed decline. For carriageways, the funding allowed for some improvements which could be concentrated on local roads. Overall, the condition of carriageways had improved for all categories over the last five years or so. For main roads, the condition was comparable to that of highways in neighbouring Counties.
There were teams dedicated to inspecting and repairing all the County’s roads. Every road was inspected from a slow moving vehicle by a team of two trained inspectors. Minor roads were inspected once a year and main roads inspected once a month.
All types of defects were identified – not just potholes. Each defect was assessed by the inspectors or Local Area Technician and a response time designated. These inspections were geared towards safety. Response times ranged from two hours (emergencies) to 28 days (low risk). In some cases however, a repair was not required immediately and could be included in future work programmes. Sometimes a repair necessitated the closure of the highway and therefore could not be undertaken immediately.
The County Council’s maintenance regime had been accredited by the British Standards Institute and the County had received full funding from the Department for Transport. Proactive planning also took place in order ensure the future resilience of the highway network and to take account of factors such as climate change and in the Vale, significant housing growth. Although the roads had been improved over the last five years, it was acknowledged that there was no room for complacency. There were almost 1,400 potential schemes on strategic roads alone and probably 3,000 in total.
Mr Carpenter and Councillor Irwin, as appropriate, responded to a number of questions/comments from Committee members, including the following:-
· It was confirmed that (as outline above) visual checks were undertaken. It was emphasised that local knowledge and reporting was however invaluable.
· Use was being made of new technology. Foe example LED units in street lamps and new resurfacing materials.
· It was indicated that potentially, potholes of the type illustrated in the presentation material took around two days to remedy. However, those considered to be a serious safety hazard would be repaired often within two hours.
· Members appreciated being advised of the statistical data included within the presentation, which they felt would be helpful to them in explaining the highways maintenance strategies to Town/Parish Councils.
· Climate change and the need to protect the local environment was factored into the maintenance regime. However the variation in the climate could affect the determination of what type of works were undertaken. Winter and Summer weather was no longer easily predictable.
· It was confirmed that efforts were continually being made to change travel habits to more environmentally friendly modes of transport to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other climate warming gasses. Consideration was being given to the viability of park and ride schemes and improvements were being made to cycle ways. The Highways Team was involved in the planning of Aylesbury as a Garden Town. Greater use was also being made of recycled aggregates.
· Consideration was being given within the resources available to increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points.
· It was confirmed that there was an on-going maintenance programme for highway signage. Also, efforts were being made to maintain safety standards through roadside tree surgery. However it needed to be recognised that it was not always possible to carry out this work when preferred as it was determined by the growing cycle.
· Wherever possible and where budgets allowed, every endeavour was being made to ensure that the repairs carried out had regard to the historic character of an area and the existing road materials.
· Where appropriate (and again within the limitations of the budget), and bearing in mind the positioning of underground utilities, tree planting along roadsides was undertaken.
· It was acknowledged that the transition to a unitary authority would improve the efficiency of future road maintenance planning.
· Reference was made to the need to engage with customers in connection with the number of likely vehicle movements associated with the transport of spoil and aggregates used in connection with the construction of the HS2 project. It was however indicated that getting firm information from HS2 Ltd on this aspect was proving to be difficult.
· Reference was made to the need to consider carefully the siting of controlled pedestrian crossings, which were often located close to roundabouts and other junctions.
· Brief reference was made to the decision to devolve some highway maintenance work to Parish Councils which was appreciated by local communities.
In conclusion, the Committee thanked Mr Carpenter and Councillor Irwin for allowing Members the opportunity to have a full and frank discussion on this matter.