Calls for pothole repairs on unclassified roads in Hertfordshire to be speeded up

The call was made as part of the cabinet panel’s consideration of the county council’s budget proposals

By Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 9:14 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 9:17 am

A Liberal Democrat bid to speed up the repair of pot holes on Hertfordshire roads, as part of the county council’s budget setting process, has failed.

Currently the county council commits to respond to the most severe potholes – on classified roads or designated cycle routes – within 24 hours.

But the repair of a pothole on an unclassified road – in excess of 50mm deep – can take as long as 20 days.

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The call was made as part of the cabinet panel’s consideration of the county council’s budget proposals

At a meeting of the council’s highways and transport cabinet panel on Monday, January 31, Liberal Democrat Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst called for that time frame to be cut to a maximum of 10 days.

But – following a majority vote – the move was rejected by members of the panel.

The call was made as part of the cabinet panel’s consideration of the county council’s budget proposals, known as the Integrated Plan or IP.

According to data presented to councillors – as part of the budget-setting process – potholes in Hertfordshire must be 50mm deep to trigger intervention or 40mm on a cycle route.

On classified roads – i.e. A, B or C roads – that intervention can be within 24 hours of a report, ‘where there are chunks of loose material on the road about the size of a tennis ball’.

Nevertheless, data presented as part of the IP shows that in some areas – such as Norfolk, Peterborough and Southend – pothole repairs are triggered at a depth of 40mm, rather than 50mm.

And it showed that on occasions some local authorities – such as Norfolk, Peterborough, Suffolk, Southend, Essex, Central Beds and Thurrock – could respond within two hours.

Making the case to speed-up repairs on unclassified roads in Hertfordshire, Cllr Giles-Medhurst pointed to the quicker response rate of other authorities.

And while he said he wasn’t suggesting the council match the two-hour response he said he believed that 20 working days was “too long”.

He also suggested changes that would increase the number of roads considered as cycle routes – by including all those included in the ‘local cycling and walking infrastructure plan’ – where a 40mm pothole would then trigger a response.

In response to the call to speed up the repair of potholes on unclassified roads, executive member for highways and transport Cllr Phil Bibby pointed to the additional costs involved.

And he said: “. . . at the moment that’s what we have decided to do and that’s what we can afford.”

Cllr Bibby said that the county council was reviewing how roads were maintained, in advance of the procurement process for a new contract.

In addressing the call to expand the roads considered as cycling routes – triggering the shallower 40mm definition of a pothole – Cllr Bibby again pointed to the cost.

And he said that the council’s strategy was to invest on preventative maintenance to prevent potholes from occurring at all.

“We don’t want to waste money on going out to repair delamination and defects,” he said.

“But we want to actually fix the roads to prevent delamination in the first place.’

‘Delamination’ is where layers of the road’s surface are worn away.

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Meanwhile at the same meeting Cllr Stephen Giles Medhurst also called for changes to street lighting policy – to enable lights to stay on longer in certain circumstances.

Currently – under the county council’s ‘part-night lighting’ scheme – most street lights across Hertfordshire are turned off at 1am. And they are turned back on at 5am.

In an amendment to the budget proposals, Cllr Giles-Medhurst called for local councillors to be able to amend the street light hours – subject to the costs being met by dimming at other times or funding from the individual councillor’s ‘highways locality budget’.

And he said this was a measure that would reduce crime or the fear of crime, especially for women.

Pointing to Cheshire East, he said this had been done in other areas and had led to a reduction in crime.

Executive member for highways and transport Cllr Phil Bibby said that – with corresponding dimming to compensate – there was already provision for street lights to remain on later around areas such as entertainment and transport hubs.

But he said that since this was allowed last year there had not been any requests to do so.

And he added: “So I am wondering what is the real issue out there?”

Peter Simpson, from the county council’s highways department, said that ‘where there was justification’ councillors could already request street lighting to remain on until 2am – subject to dimmer lighting between 5am and 6am.

But he said that, to date, the council had not received any requests from councillors – and would be highlighting the option again in the Spring.

He suggested feedback from the police suggested that there was no evidence that suggested that improving lighting to this degree would reduce the fear of crime.

And he suggested that in some ways increasing lighting in some places may increase opportunity for those undertaking illegal activity.