Getting a grip of Oldham’s roads

POTHOLES: Oldham Council is responsible for maintaining 826 kilometres of roads across our Borough.
POTHOLES: Oldham Council is responsible for maintaining 826 kilometres of roads across our Borough.

IT’S THAT time of year when the freezing weather bites and the potholes inevitably follow in numbers.

Humps and bumps and years of underfunding have caught up with the national network – not just ours – but we are striving to make progress.

That’s not easy, however, because as quickly as we repair what we find the ageing infrastructure and notorious Pennine weather continually works against us.

Let’s start by acknowledging the scale of the challenge.

Oldham Council is responsible for maintaining 826 kilometres of roads and a host of bridges (264 in total) across the Borough – that’s without counting the 438 kilometres of rights of way routes.

Back in 2010 a decision was taken to create an investment fund to begin to reduce the backlog of repairs.

The rationale was that with the damage caused and the resulting vehicles, trips and fall claims we were paying out money which was totally wasted.

If that extra money was invested in repairs which would prevent accident claims then the repayment would be covered by the saving on compensation.

That was the rationale and – in some ways – it makes sense but the reality is that we don’t have enough money to repair every road, and we also have no way of pre-empting which potholes will lead to claims.

This year we’ve invested a further £2 million into pothole repairs and also introduced a new machine – the velocity patcher.

This equipment brings a whole new approach to filling in potholes.

We all know the frustration when the Council comes out to repair a pothole, only for the material to ‘pop’ back out a few weeks later – and the cost of this kind of repeated repairs is significant.

The failure is caused by the new material not being able to get right into the pothole and so, when the next frost comes along, the water retained in the hole around the new filling expands – causing the ‘pop’.

The power of the velocity patcher is simple. First, it blasts the pothole clear of debris and water so that it provides a clean surface to fill. It then injects the new tarmac at high pressure, filling every void in the pothole.

But we also understand the frustration felt by some residents when they are told the pothole they reported isn’t actually a pothole at all!

This is usually because although there is a break in the surface, it is not a trip or accident hazard and, as such, can’t be put on the priority list.

To add to the frustration residents have also told us about instances whereby several potholes located near to each other are reported to us but the repair team subsequently only repair some; missing others which don’t meet the technical definition of a pothole.

I see this as a nonsense – not least of all because if we have a gang out repairing one pothole it has to be cheaper in the long run to do all the repairs at once rather than keep returning as each particular pothole meets the criteria. It’s the type of approach which leads to Daily Mail headlines saying: “The world has gone mad.”

What we’re doing now is monitoring how effective the new velocity patcher is and working hard to tackle the backlog.

Once we do this we will review the whole approach to make sure that residents are getting the best possible service.

At the moment we only have time and money to deal with the worst but if we keep investing, even in tough times, we can get onto a more even footing.

We’re also looking at roads where early resurfacing is more cost-effective in the long run than constantly going back and forth filling in potholes. Instead of removing the existing layer and resurfacing we are considering a ‘surface dressing’ approach which is far less expensive and can easily last 10-15 years: although isn’t suitable for all road types.

We’ve also devolved £25,000 per ward per year to local councillors for highway resurfacing works. So if you have a concern where your road is bad that simple pothole repairs won’t suffice, then please contact your local member to have it considered.

To manage expectations, however,  we know that even £25,000 doesn’t go far and Councillors locally have difficult decisions to make about how their money can be used to best effect.

I hope you can see we are taking the pothole challenge seriously – and we know it is a big issue for you. The challenge is massive but we are exploring new ways to catch up and bring our roads to a decent standard with more than £12 million of investment and exploring new ways of doing the job.

Moving briefly onto other matters, I must mention that this week saw the first local arrest made as part of our crackdown on illegal money lenders.

The message is getting out that if you seek to prey on the people that we are here to serve then we will come after you. Simple.

Finally, this will be my last blog before the festive and New Year period, but it will return on Wednesday, January 16.

Before I go I’d just like to remind you that our free car parking scheme – for up to three hours – continues in the town centre during this time on Saturdays.

Please opt to ‘Shop Local’ and spend your cash in Oldham, and in your district centres, in those final frantic shopping days and – above all – have a fantastic Christmas with your family and friends.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Balancing the books: Cracking-down on crooks

QUESTION TIME: Residents get the chance to quiz councillors again at Full Council on December 12 via Social Media and email
QUESTION TIME: Residents get the chance to quiz councillors again at Full Council on December 12 via Social Media and email

THIS week Cabinet discussed a set of proposals to help us save around £31 million from Oldham Council’s budget over the next two years.

I want to start by saying something about the language we use when talking about this as it can be misleading.

When we say ‘savings’ we don’t mean an amount of money we’ve decided not to spend that will not be put away in a bank or spent on something else.

What we actually mean is there is going to be £31 million less to spend – forever – on services like social care, parks, street cleaning and libraries. The unfortunate truth is there is no fat left to cut.

Oldham Council is a service business, so when the money is cut the services must be cut. That is inevitable.

We cannot escape that and people will start to feel the impact of the decisions we’re making now in the coming years.

We also spend most of our money on people – the staff delivering those services – and with cuts so deep it means we will employ fewer people.

These cuts may also not be the final picture. As mentioned last week, we’re set to hear from the Government about our financial settlement later this month and may be facing even more tough decisions as a result.

Like all Oldham households we must our cloth according to our means, although I am confident that the difficult decisions we will take will be the best that we can for residents given the resources and options we have. 

The fact that we are in a position to agree 95 per cent of our budget proposals at this early stage –  well before other local authorities – means we’re well placed to face any additional challenges to the budget that may come our way. 

These budget proposals go to Full Council for debate next Wednesday (December 12) and a Public Question Time section will again be part of that meeting. You can submit questions on Twitter, Facebook or via an email to localdemocracy@oldham.gov.uk by 6pm on the day.

Whilst we are on the subject of budgets I must take this opportunity to highlight our crackdown this Christmas on loan sharks who are causing misery for countless families across the Borough.

This is a stressful enough time without families fearing extra amounts and hidden interest payments that will put them in a never-ending spiral of debt.

We’ve had complaints from many victims in recent months after people took what seems like a small loan to tide them over and have then found the eventual repayment costs – and the effects on their families – to be horrific.

Oldham CAB have reported a doubling in the number of debt issues raised through them in the last year and a high percentage of those is about credit card debt and unsecured loans, including payday loans.

In Oldham the number of people struggling to pay off debts between £5,000 and £15,000 are also double the national rate.

We have a long-term campaign to help tackle this problem and this week you’ll hopefully start to see some publicity as we raise awareness of the alternatives open to them, like the Oldham Credit Union.

On Saturday some of our team will be in Oldham Town Centre to promote the Credit Union.

Following on from the recent success of our Fare’s Fair campaign, which saw significant reductions in Oldham bus fares, First Bus has now also agreed to a 30 per cent discount for members of the Oldham Credit Union on a weekly ticket for travel from December 3. This deal can be used right across the First Bus network

If you’re not going to be around in the town centre on Saturday, then I would urge you to go and find out some more information about the Oldham Credit Union on our website at:
http://www.oldham.gov.uk/creditunion

Oldham Council’s task is to steer the Borough through these difficult economic times. Central to that is investing in our future – creating jobs, regenerating and encouraging external investment – but we also have a key role to play in helping residents experiencing difficulties now.

I can assure you as a Co-operative Council it’s not a responsibility we will shy away from.

We’ve already ‘done our bit’ on cheaper energy bills and bus fares, and more will follow on this campaigning agenda as we try to help you through tricky waters ahead in 2013.

Thanks for listening,

Jim