It has been bad winter but not exceptional. But the last few months have proved near fatal for the county’s roads. After years of neglect, it doesn’t take much bad weather for Shropshire’s roads and pavements to fall apart. The Shropshire Council cabinet member for potholes, Steve Davenport, says he has “never known things to be so bad.”
The council’s new highways contractor, Keir, is working “flat out” to repair potholes using central government cash. It has done repair work here in Ludlow in recent days. That is welcome and long overdue. But Shropshire Council has slashed its road budgets by £5 million this month and will axe another £5 million next April. And patching roads is only a short term fix to long term neglect.
The Buttercross, Ludlow, 29 April 2018
Potholes are not a new problem. As long ago as 1967, The Beatles sang about 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire. In 2014, Shropshire Council identified 18,000 potholes in the county. There is little doubt that we have more than 18,000 potholes now. And roads across the UK have got so bad there is now a National Pothole Day.
There are four reasons why our county’s roads are falling apart. The government has cut the money it gives to Shropshire Council by £55 million over the last five years. The council didn’t help itself or the county’s infrastructure by refusing to increase council tax for five years. When it agreed a contract with Ringway in November 2011, it seemed to have been more interested in saving £600,000 a year than in quality of service. Then a cold and wet winter arrived to break apart roads already at the point of failure.
The Ringway contract got into trouble from day one. After ten months, it was judged by Shropshire Council as delivering unacceptable performance. In 2014, the council and Ringway introduced a “hedge to hedge” system promising everything would be pothole free and roses. Unbelievably, it won a prize for it. We never saw any evidence of the system making one jot of difference. Shropshire Council no longer mentions “hedge to hedge” but I am sure there is a plaque up somewhere in Shirehall celebrating it.
Lower Corve Street was resurfaced three times by Ringway before it was accepted as an acceptable standard. Many of its pothole repairs were often rubbish too. Potholes would be repaired because they had been reported, assessed by Shropshire Council officers and put on the contractor’s schedule. Potholes a few feet away were left untreated because they weren’t on the list and workers were not allowed to repair them, despite having tarmac in the back of the truck.
The Ringway contract ran for six years at a cost of £25 million a year. Performance by Ringway stubbornly failed to improve and Shropshire Council decided not to continue the contract. The bid for the new contract was won by Kier, a company with a good reputation in highways maintenance. But it will get £4 million pounds a year less for work in a county where the need for repairs has grown after years of neglect.
It’s great news that potholes are now being filled. That will reduce damage to vehicles. More importantly it will make our roads safer, especially for motorcyclists, cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians. The noise from potholes can also disturb residents.
Patching roads close to collapse is never going to be a long term solution. There are some roads in Ludlow that are now more repairs than original road surface. The images below were taken on Sheet Road this morning following recent repairs.
At least Shropshire Council hasn’t followed the example of Worcestershire County Council. A few years back, that council’s highways manager, who clearly fancies himself as a future Frank Sinatra (and he’s not a bad singer), starred in a video on repairing potholes. It’s a laugh a minute. I love it. If only potholes were that funny.
Shropshire Council has produced a rather less cheesy video to explain its work.
It is high time Shropshire Council published an annual pothole performance report. That must tell us how many potholes have been reported, where they are and how many have been fixed. We must also know how long it takes to get a pothole repaired. That shouldn’t be too difficult because Shropshire Council is spending £9 million a year on upgrading its computer systems. I hope the data will soon be available at a push of button.
Let’s also hope that Shropshire’s potholes will one day be fixed at push of button. Better still let’s hope that one day the county’s roads are well enough maintained to ensure that they do not fall apart every time we get a miserable winter.