SOME MONTHS ago I reported on the work that we are doing to address the number of potholes on our Borough’s roads.
Since becoming Leader I have been determined to drive forward our regeneration agenda, but I am also a stickler for getting the basics right too – the everyday things that you and I are paying our Council Tax for.
It’s no surprise whatsoever that potholes continue to dominate any survey that we do of local concerns.
Why? Well, we all feel them. Whether you’re a driver or passenger the smallest bump can irritate and larger ones can drive people mad: myself included.
I’ve made it my business to find the money needed to help us catch up on this, but also to find out why the Council does some things which to normal folk seem, well, odd.
On the money front we knew we needed to find extra funding because the number of potholes has been growing, not reducing – especially with the extreme winter weather we’ve been having.
To address this we made an extra £2 million available. That hasn’t been easy but it was the right thing to do if we were to stand any chance of catching up.
In the past 12 months we’ve now carried out repairs to more than 4,500 highways defects.
That says two things to me. The first is the sheer scale of the challenge, with even more to do, and secondly that our investment is slowly beginning to pay off.
But we also need to be realistic.
We simply don’t have the money to keep throwing millions at potholes.
Once we get on an even kneel with this we need to give more clarity on what we can and cannot do with the dwindling resources available.
As it stands we try and please everyone everywhere – even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes – but spreading limited resources so thinly that nobody sees the benefit doesn’t help anyone.
So as we work to get even on the potholes situation we’re now looking at a new approach whereby we give overall priority to main roads (A and B roads) as our Priority Routes.
The level of service on these routes should be first class because the vast majority of the public are using them on a daily basis.
But I also know that we shouldn’t just be looking at potholes. We should include in this programme works to signage, road markings and street furniture, including basic maintenance like painting and replacing damaged sections. These roads are our ‘shop window’ and we need to get them right.
We will then ensure those potholes which are causing a danger or could give rise to a compensation claim are prioritised. It makes no sense to ignore those potholes which cost us far more in the end through other costs.
We will, of course, aim to repair all potholes. We can’t just leave roads in a state of disrepair, but if we do prioritise main routes we will need to accept that smaller roads and cul de sacs will take longer to sort. That’s not ideal, but it is sensible and it makes the most of a limited budget.
We also know that residents get infuriated when reporting a series of potholes only for the Council to come out and just repair one or two; leaving others which don’t quite meet the required size or depth to warrant immediate action.
I’ve been firm that this is neither efficient nor good for the Council’s reputation and have been assured that staff are now directed to use their discretion and ensure we don’t tie ourselves in rules and red tape when residents simply want a smooth road to drive on.
We’re also not going to let the utility companies off the hook here. Most of them do a good job in fairness, but a sizeable minority don’t and the reinstatement works they leave behind can often cause angst to motorists.
We’re well on with tackling this now with them and have undertaken a system of ‘core sampling’ whereby we drill the repairs to ensure it was completed to the required standard. If it isn’t, we do take action.
I’ll continue updating you on the battle with the potholes in the coming months as we have more information and news on what is a massive national problem.
Finally this week I wanted to welcome a fantastic new initiative by Oldham College called Study Money.
This means that from September students from the poorest families will be able to claim £20 a week to help them study and pay for equipment, travel, lunches and stationery.
Since the Education Maintenance Allowance was scrapped we know that young people are finding the costs of education increasingly prohibitive – especially in the current economic climate.
The Study Money offer gives children from low-income families another affordable route into education that otherwise would not have been there for them.
Oldham College is a great partner in terms of our ambitions for Oldham – and how we are actively trying to improve access to the best education opportunities for all our residents – and this is an excellent scheme.
Thanks for listening,