Agenda item

Agenda item

DEVELOPING A HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE STRATEGY

To consider a report (copy enclosed) illustrating trends in road conditions

since the start of the previous Corporate Plan (2012 2017), and to give an

understanding of the way the service proposes to use the available budget

during the period of the next Corporate Plan (2017 2022).

9:35 a.m

Minutes:

The Lead Member for Highways, Planning and Sustainable Development and the Head of Highways and Environmental Services, introducing the Highways Asset and Risk Manager’s report (previously circulated), advised that they wanted to share with the Committee the effectiveness of the investment made to improve and maintain the county’s road network under the previous Corporate Plan and their proposed strategy for continuing to invest in the network during the term of the new Corporate Plan.  The Lead Member advised that since being appointed to his Cabinet role he had visited all areas of the county to discuss with residents and businesses their concerns regarding specific highway matters in their areas.

By means of a PowerPoint presentation the Highways Asset and Risk Manager briefed members on the current state of the county’s highways and the Service’s proposed strategy for its future maintenance.  During the presentation members were:

·         advised of the length of Class A, Class B, Class C and unclassified roads that made up the 1415.7Km of Denbighshire’s highway network (the three trunk roads that traversed the county were not included as the Welsh Government’s (WG) Transport Division was responsible for their maintenance costs);

·         informed of the various methodologies for assessing and reporting on the condition of the carriageway, the causes of highway failures and the intervention/prevention work that was used to address failures and safeguard against further deterioration.  It was emphasised that the national indicator relating to carriageway condition assessments, undertaken via the Scanner method, only covered 32% of Denbighshire’s road network.  Consequently the Authority had developed its own visual method of evaluating the condition of all roads across the county.  This method was found to be particularly useful for roads not covered by the Scanner method.  Examples of this visual method were displayed as part of the presentation and statistics were given to illustrate how the condition of the network had improved year on year between 2011 and 2017;

·         advised that now the condition of the highway across the county had improved the concern going forward would be the Council’s financial ability to continually invest in highway improvement and remedial work, drainage work projects, and the sustainability of improvement works for the medium to long-term.  The risk posed by financial constraints had the potential to jeopardise the authority’s performance in relation to road condition national Performance Indicators (PIs) going forward;  

·         informed that the approach proposed for the term of the new Council would be to attempt to sustain and at least maintain the current condition of the network.  This approach was based on the assumption that the current levels of both capital and revenue funding would be maintained at current levels.  Roads, due to usage levels and the effect of the weather would continually deteriorate.  However, it was envisaged that by adopting a prevention approach to remedial work, innovative use of revenue funding  available, closer working with other services and organisation in order to realise maximum benefits from any available funding  and grants, the Council could at least maintain the network in in its current condition; and

·         Welsh Government (WG) funding would be sought for large scale highways capital projects.

Responding to members’ questions the Lead Member and relevant officers:

·         explained the technical difficulties involved with setting the correct levels when re-laying gulleys as part of highways maintenance work;

·         emphasised that the Council would need to invest in its highways network or all the improvements realised under the 2012-17 Corporate Plan would be lost;

·         confirmed that they would continue to lobby WG for funding for major highways capital projects.  In the meantime the Council had a duty to keep the roads in a ‘safe’ condition to ensure users’ safety;

·         confirmed that the estimated costs detailed in Appendix 1 to the report included all costs involved with highways maintenance work, including preparatory costs and those associated with the disposal of waste materials;

·         advised that whilst some of the maintenance work was undertaken in-house, the majority was outsourced from private contractors who were on the Council’s approved contractors list.  As these contractors were part of the Framework mechanism their work was guaranteed and any defects that came to light would be rectified under their agreement with the Council.  The Framework provided quality assurance for the Council;

·         utility companies were required to give advance notice to the Council if they intended to undertake any work that entailed digging up the highway.  They were also legally obliged to return the highway to at least its previous condition once their work was complete.  To ensure all requirements were complied with Council officers would inspect the condition of the highway at that particular location twice following the completion of the utility company’s work.  Generally, the condition of the highway following work by utility companies was usually better than its condition immediately prior to the work taking place;

·         confirmed that utility companies were permitted to resurface a road following works with a temporary surface for up to 6 months if need be i.e. due to the high cost of asphalt they may wish to purchase a bulk load for use on a number of resurfacing projects in order to realise value for money, therefore it would be economically better for them to complete a number of projects at the same time;

·         explained the SCRIM survey mechanism for measuring skidding resistance on roads, highlighting a number of recent road maintenance projects in the county where this method had proved invaluable;

·         emphasised the importance of the quality of the ‘joint sealing’ process when undertaking maintenance work in order to mitigate against further deterioration in the fabric of the highway;

·         confirmed that the schedules of local highway maintenance work would be discussed at the relevant Member Area Group (MAG) meetings.  Work schedules were drawn up using sound methodology based on risks to the road user.  Similarly, gulleys and ditches were prioritised for clearing and emptying  based on the risk they posed to residents, businesses and material damage to the highway;

·         informed the Committee that third party claims against the Council’s insurance because of damage caused due to the conditions of its road network were not significant.  The Council’s insurer rarely had to pay out to third party claimants.  The position was very similar in relation to pathways, pavement and footways.  However, they did not form part of the proposed Strategy for Highway Maintenance, maintenance works on these would be subject to a funding bid to the Strategic Investment Group (SIG) ; 

·         confirmed that officers from Highways and Environmental Services would make every effort to work with staff from the Planning and Public Protection Service and developers with a view to maximising benefits to the Council, the Service and the highways network in general by securing effective Section 278 agreements linked to planning applications;

·         advised that the provision of dropped kerbs was now routinely considered as an integral part of any highway maintenance work project, with dropped kerbs being laid where it was deemed safe and suitable for them to be laid;

·         informed members that during the recent ‘County Conversation’ exercise held to gain residents input into the new Corporate Plan and Well-being Plan, the condition of the county’s highways was rarely mentioned.  This was perhaps an indication that residents were now generally satisfied with their condition; and

·         encouraged members to report any issues that were brought to their attention regarding the condition of the highway, gulleys or ditches etc. which required maintenance or clearing/emptying, to the Council’s Customer Services Centre who could then refer them direct to the Service for investigation

Committee members were firmly of the view that representations should be made to WG seeking it to provide financial support to the Council to help it deliver a number of highway improvement projects, some of which had already been scoped and designed but could not be delivered in the short to medium term due to continuing financial constraints.  In view of this the Committee felt that an invitation should be sent to the WG’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to meet with the Committee in the New Year to discuss highways funding for the county.

 

The Committee was also of the view that the development of a bypass for the city of St. Asaph should appear on the Council’s programme of future projects, as this would be a vital link between the north and south of the county which would support the development of the economy across the whole county and improve incomes and prosperity.  Whilst officers agreed with the need for this vital link road they did caution members that any additional road surface area would in turn increase the Council’s financial and legal obligations in relation to their maintenance. 

 

Officers agreed with members that it would be advisable to highlight to residents how much the condition of the county’s roads had improved in recent years.  It was felt that in future it would be beneficial if this were done on a project by project basis, apologising for any disruptions whilst explaining why roadworks were taking place and their potential long-term benefits for residents and the county as a whole.

 

At the conclusion of the discussion the Committee commended the proposal to develop a highway maintenance strategy for the term of office of the new Council.  In supporting the proposal it did raise concerns on the quality of the Well-being Impact Assessment (WIA) completed in relation to the proposal.  Whilst members felt that the ‘positive consequences’ of the proposal had been thoroughly assessed they felt that not enough attention had been given to the ‘unintended negative consequences’, therefore the overall assessment was not entirely holistic.  Officers acknowledged this and undertook to update the WIA regularly as the strategy and its associated projects developed.  Members:

 

RESOLVED:  subject to the above observations to –

 

(i)   support the approach being proposed by the Service to balance the risk of deteriorating roads against the available financial resource over the period 2017 – 2022;

(ii)  write to the Welsh Government seeking its assistance to fund designated road improvement projects that the Council was unable to fund by itself during a period of austerity, and which could potentially affect the overall quality of the county’s road network and have an adverse effect on the local economy;

(iii)invite the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport to attend a future meeting of the Committee to discuss highways funding for Denbighshire and the North Wales region; and

(iv)  confirm that  it had read, understood and taken account of the Well-being Impact Assessment (Appendix 3) as part of its consideration, highlighting that future Well-being Impact Assessments should contain a more holistic assessment of the proposals’ potential impact, in particular the unintended negative consequences of any proposals on the well-being goals.

 

Supporting documents:

 

 
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