Go away winter…

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RESILIENCE helps us all to get through a typical Oldham winter – and this year we’ve needed it even more than usual.

Winter has been a particularly cruel season this time round with unusually prolonged spells of frost and frequent snowfall all culminating in last week’s big freeze. Let’s hope that is the worst of it out of the way!

The visits of Storm Emma and the Beast From The East brought together an extreme cocktail of freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and high winds that made hibernation look an appealing option by last Thursday morning.

It feels like it has been winter forever now and, to put it in to some context, I wanted to share with you the efforts our gritting and highways team have been putting in to battle what the elements have been throwing at the borough.

IMG_0606By last Saturday morning our gritter drivers had clocked up 77,287 road miles – or 124,381 kilometres – since October.

They’d also put in around 15,000 tractor miles, done 148 separate treatment shifts on local roads and spread 6,280 tonnes of salt.

The response last week from all our staff, partners and residents was fantastic and inspiring yet again.

Gritting shifts continued round the clock from last Sunday onwards. Roads were ploughed, snow blowers deployed and fallen trees removed as the disruption deepened.

Council staff and employees of MioCare, which is responsible for delivering social care in Oldham, literally waded their way through snow drifts to visit elderly and vulnerable people in some of the remotest locations we have – not missing one single appointment. Others rang thousands of residents checking on their wellbeing, food and medicine stocks and heating.

Partners also came to the fore. Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, for example, helped us ensure that a 94-year-old lady was safe and warm in her isolated Strinesdale home surrounded by snow drifts.

Oldham Fire Station opened their facilities as a rest centre for motorists stranded around the local road network after the M62 became impassable. And local tractor drivers and residents came out in their droves to offer help and food to people trapped in and around the Saddleworth villages.

IMG_0610 (002)The clean-up operation is now underway – and there is plenty to do.

Our facility at Access Oldham suffered wind damage but it is now back and fully operational.  Unfortunately, Gallery Oldham suffered from flooding and remains closed for now. To get the latest updates on any of our services or buildings please go to www.oldham.gov.uk/winter

We also have a backlog of bin collections to catch up on, grit bins to refill and – of course – we know the latest freeze inevitably means dozens more potholes will be appearing on our roads.

Just last month we announced a £6.2 million investment to bring many of our highways back up to scratch. I want to stress again that that work is ongoing and it is in addition to our regular pothole repairs, where we need your help.

We’ve repaired more than 4,441 potholes in the last twelve months but with 856 kilometres of roads to look after we simply don’t have the resource to spot them all. That’s why I am again asking people to please do #yourbit and report any potholes that you see using our online form here

If the pothole poses an immediate and serious threat to safety, then please call 0161 770 4325.

I want to say thank you once again to everyone who helped make the latest Oldham response to extreme weather so effective.

Thank you to local residents and business for your patience too, and the many kind comments and words of appreciation that our staff received.

The spirit that was shown and the snow heroes who came to the fore are a true credit to the borough.

I, for one, am now desperately hoping that was winter’s last hurrah for 2017/8 and am counting down the days until British Summer Time officially begins (Sunday, March 25) and brings a glorious extra hour of daylight to warm our spirits.

Jean

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Better roads for Oldham – £6.2m investment starts now

THE LATEST wintry weather is a stark reminder of the challenges we face in keeping local roads to a good standard of repair.

Ask any Council Leader about this subject and I would confidently bet that most will tell you that potholed roads is the top cause of the complaints they get from the public.

And I do sympathise – I am a driver after all!…

I can’t deny I get as irked as anyone else does after driving over one – although it is also true that nobody ever notices driving over roads where no bumps occur, for obvious reasons.

To try and address the pothole problem we’ve announced a new £6.2 million investment programme in Oldham’s roads this week.

This new money is funding a 12-month programme of works to get more streets into shape with a high-quality and durable surface that supports residents, motorists and business and keeps the borough moving.

This is really positive news, but we’ve also got to be realistic about the scale of the problem.

OMBC HighwaysRoad surfacing is a constant ongoing battle and the significant funding cuts from Government leave us with far less to spend on it than we would ideally put in.

In recent years we’ve also had some very harsh winters and wet summers which have had a significant impact on the 856 kilometres of roads we maintain.

This – and increased traffic levels – means many road surfaces are in need of repair or resurfacing. That £6.2 million commitment means specialist teams are out on the roads as you read this right now and getting on with that job.

There’s two key issues at play when it comes to road surfacing.

Firstly, there just isn’t enough Government funding to help local authorities like ourselves get on top of the problem.  Last year a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance estimated that councils are fixing 1.75 million potholes a year, which is one every 19 seconds, and sounds impressive. But the scale of the issue is such that the Local Government Association believes there is an astronomical national funding gap of £12 billion to be plugged and it would still take more than a decade – even with all that money provided – just to catch up with the backlog.

Although we’re not unique in terms of the funding challenges we face, a second issue for Oldham lies in the topographical nature of where we live.

Snow and ice causes the vast majority of pothole cracks and are much more likely to be on higher ground.  That’s because the higher you are, the colder it tends to be, which explains why the Saddleworth Moors always appear to be hit first. Height is also crucial because just a small change in temperature can mean the difference between rain and snow (which melts at 0 degrees C or above) and the Highways team tell me that 99 per cent of our borough lies at least at a height of 100 metres above sea level.

POTHOLES2We know it is vital that we continue to invest in our key infrastructure, like the road network.

In addition to this new investment we’re continuing to give overall priority to our main roads (A and B roads). These are our Priority Routes because the majority of the public use them each day – and you can help us to keep them well maintained.

We operate a 24 Hour Repair Promise on these roads (you may have noticed the road signs indicating this) so, if you see a defect, then please report it to us so we can take action immediately. Find out more here.

Obviously, we cannot go out driving every stretch of our roads checking for defects like this every day, so we rely on your help as our ‘eyes and ears’ by reporting problems as they arise.

Finally, I want to stress that this £6.2million investment is new money and it is in addition to the regular and scheduled work that our Highways Team are already carrying out, such as other reactive pothole repairs.

You can find out more about which roads will be improved in the first three months of this programme here.

Please do #yourbit and report any pothole problems to us online.

Jean