Meeting documents

  • Meeting of Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee, Tuesday 6th November 2018 10.00 am (Item 6.)

As a result of Member concerns raised in previous meetings, Members will review the council’s current policy and approach to gully cleansing and drainage maintenance, through the Transport for Bucks contract. They will examine the current performance, risks and opportunities, with a view to identifying key areas of challenge and possible improvements.



Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Transportation

Mark Averill, Head of Highways (Client)

David Stewart, Scheme Delivery Manger (TfB)



The Chairman welcomed the Cabinet Member for Transportation and the Operations Manager for TfB who introduced the item and highlighted the following in their summary:


The full discussion can be viewed on the webcast.

  • The operations manager had been in post for three years which had driven improvements in the service.
  • Over the last 2 years nearly 80 capital drainage schemes had been delivered to address drainage issues.
  • Gully emptying was only part of the suite of work for drainage maintenance to remove water from road surfaces to prevent rapid deterioration of road surfaces.
  • There were approx. 79000 gullys in Buckinghamshire.
  • The network of pipework was in various states of deterioration, there was not currently a full picture of the state of the pipework and issues of flooding gullys was often a result of pipework issues, rather than lack of previous cleansing or problems with the gully itself. This lack of information was a significant challenge.
  • The current regime was a cyclical approach to programming of works, with two full time gully emptiers and a third that was hired in when necessary for reactive works. 
  • The gullys on A and B roads were cleared once a year, the ones on C and U roads were cleared once every 3 years.
  • The programme would be disrupted by reactive requirements with resources deployed elsewhere which meant it could at times be difficult to keep to the programme. The KPI for adherence to the programme had a target of at least 95%.
  • Over the last three years TfB had met the performance targets for gully cleaning and had kept within budget.
  • When prioritising works the teams would judge the severity of the blocked gully. If it was not fully blocked and still draining, even if slowly, or if water could drain further down the system, it would not necessarily be a priority to deploy resource away from the programme to address these reactively.
  • The Capital programme over the last 3 years of £720,000, £720,000 and £1m enabled around 80 sites to be addressed where gully emptying could not resolve bigger drainage issues.
  • There were seasonal challenges with leaf and debris build up causing difficulties in Autumn, and poorer weather in winter usually meant a more onerous reactive requirement. In the winter the drivers of the gully emptiers, as HGV drivers, would also be part of gritting rota’s meaning additional potential disruption to programme.
  • A (significant) number of Local Authorities were moving away from programmes on a cyclical basis and were using technology and innovation to build up information around the asset, high risk areas and vulnerable locations and moving to a more risk based approach to gully cleaning programmes.
  • TfB would like to use such systems to build up intelligence to target the resource at the most vulnerable areas of the network.
  • TfB were currently working on a business case for different approaches, looking at savings and efficiencies they could bring.  They were also exploring sensor technology to help build intelligence to tailor a risk based approach. TfB were building a business case to look at how this technology could help make a more efficient, sustainable and cost effective approach for the Council.
  • The key was to ensure that the limited resources were effectively targeted in the places they were most needed.


Member’s questions and the resulting discussions included the following points:


  • Current cyclical programme and extent to which it represented Member and resident experiences and complaints: Members asked about the timing of the programme, in particular, during the winter when gullys became blocked with extra leaves and debris. Members were told that TfB needed to align their work as much as possible with the district road sweeping programmes to make overall work programmes more efficient.  In some cases it could appear that gullys had not been cleared, however, the surface water was often due to more significant drainage issues.  To resolve these more significant issues they had to be added to the capital programme and could take longer to resolve. Members were told that the capital schemes had started to address some of the long standing issues.
  • Performance of the current programme: Members asked about slippage of the programme and were told that the programme was detailed, was built per road and was mostly on track. The KPI was set at a target of 95% minimum for adherences to the programme. Slippage was often due to reactive requirements pulling resources away from the programme.
  • How TfB worked with other to ensure strategies were aligned: Members were told that  joint working had improved significantly over the last 2 years.  Gully programmes were published with district, town and parish councils. Members were given some good examples of collaborative working in Amersham and Chesham.  It was acknowledged that working relationships with local councils were not perfect, whilst they had improved, this area was still developing. Members were assured that TfB would endeavour to further improve joint working and alignment of programmes going forward.  
  • Members also heard that TfB held monthly meetings with the strategic flood risk management team to align works, identify issues and joint working opportunities. An annual stakeholder conference with town and parish council’s was held each year. This year attendance was significantly higher, a reflection of how engagement had improved.
  • Roles and responsibilities of landowners: Members asked about what steps were taken to remind landowners of their responsibilities. They heard that the Local Area Technicians worked with landowners and that there were two types of conversation. The first was where landowners themselves had created the problem. The second was where highways had caused landowners issues. Members were told that most of the conversations resulted in positive action and joint working.  There had been some occasions where the Council had to take action under the Highways Act. In these situations, where landowners had not taken required actions TfB would have to "make safe" the situation with temporary measures in the meantime.
  • Soakaway issues:  Members highlighted issues with soakaways and asked how these were dealt with. They were told that clearing soakaways could sometimes be a significant job, and there was a need to build up greater knowledge and information around where soakaways were in order to better tackle these issues.
  • Knowledge and information of the drainage asset: Members asked about the steps being taken to build up an accurate picture of the asset. They heard that TfB were creating a viewpoint of problem areas. They needed to get the correct management system in order to gather and view this information. The system being considered provided the technology to build this picture and was used in other local authority areas and contracts with positive reports.  It was hoped that this system might be in place by April next year and a business case was currently being developed.. Having this information would enable a risk based approach to gully clearing as opposed to the current cyclical programme of works, which would be more efficient.  Members were offered an opportunity to receive a demonstration of the technology.


Action: Mr Stewart and Ms Wager to organise a member demonstration of the new technology.


  • Criteria for prioritisation:  Members asked about the criteria in order to understand how capital works were prioritised which also defined how quickly the issue would be addressed. Mr Stewart provided examples of the types of criteria used such as safety, flooding to homes and land etc. but would send the specific criteria to Members following the meeting. Members wanted to understand the criteria and would suggest amendments if necessary. 


Action: Mr Stewart to send the criteria to Ms Wager who would circulate to Members. Members would consider any suggested amendments.


  • Complaints data: Members asked about the trend in complaints and were told that complaints were reducing, there were less "blocked gully" complaints and more about drainage issues and requests for information.  Members heard that the open style of answers that was now given described what was done and what can’t be done which had helped to remove the complaint elements. It was recognised that the good weather this year would have contributed to the reduction in complaints.
  • Contract Monitoring and Quality Checking Works:  Members raised concerns around whether works were checked by the Council. Members were told that the client (the Council) had inspectors who checked a percentage of all works carried out. There was also a KPI for the number of gullys cleared within the programme and TfB had to prove these had been done, this was reported on, on a monthly basis. Members expressed they would like more reassurance about the quality checks and inspections carried out by the client side and would like a written response from the Highways Manager.


Action: Mr Averill to provide a written response to be circulated to Members about the quality checking and inspection process.


  • A new Approach and way forward: Members asked about how the service could be improved and made more efficient. They heard that the introduction of the management system to target resources more effectively to move away from a cyclical approach to a more risk based approach. TfB hoped to have the system in place next year and the business case for this was being taken forward. Using gully sensor technology would help build an accurate picture of the gully’s and help target when and where works needed to take place.
  • Member suggestion for capital scheme programmes: Members suggested that capital drainage scheme programmes should be included within the Member capital maintenance programme meetings.


The Chairman thanked the Cabinet Member and his officers for their update.


Supporting documents: