Norfolk County Council Highways
An opportunity for Members to ask questions of Matt Worden, Area Manager South Department for Community and Environmental Services, Norfolk County Council.
The Chairman welcomed the Norfolk County Council Highways Area Manager for South Norfolk and Breckland, Mr Worden to the meeting.
The Chairman explained how she was concerned about the highways issues across Breckland District and raised a series of questions of which Mr Worden responded. She thanked Mr Worden for the data supplied to the Commission but felt there was a great deal of raw data which was not specific to Breckland.
A number of issues were discussed under this item so for ease of reference have been grouped into subject order
Mr Worden advised Norfolk County Council (NCC) had one of the largest surface areas in the Country. The roads in Norfolk were historic 16 and 17th century agricultural tracks which NCC had surfaced and dressed many times. The budget for the dressing programme was £10 million per annum for the whole County and was distributed on a needs basis. Each road was given a priority and the highest priority would be dressed but he confirmed every road on the list was dressed every two years with B roads every 5 years.
The Chairman asked what determined the priority of the roads to be dressed.
Mr Worden explained that each A and B roads were means tested and reported in their highest priority from immediate treatment required to it did not need treatment at that time.
He went on to explain that surface dressing was an application of emulsion and chippings. The programme would usually be carried out during the summer months and was a very economic method of maintenance as it stopped water getting into the roads. In comparison resurfacing would put a layer of material 40-60 mm in depth and this was restricted mainly to the A and B roads for the use of heavy lorries as merely dressing those categories did little for the structure of the road.
The Chairman stated that many rural roads are unclassified but still took heavy vehicles.
Councillor Newton asked if inspections were carried out once a surface dressing had taken place. An example he gave was where a road had been dressed but not directly to the edge of the kerbs. As a result surface water collected at these points and then damaged the road.
Mr Worden confirmed that if the road was surface dressed it should be carried out kerb to kerb. However, if it was patched it would not. A full surface dressing would be inspected 14 days after completion and signed off. If it was patching on a main road the inspector would inspect on his next round however if it was a rural road patching it may not be inspected for 6 months during the next routine inspection.
Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and Performance
Councillor Clarke questioned how performance was measured.
Mr Worden confirmed that NCC had subscribed to the National Highways Transportation (NHT) and were ranked 6th for road conditions in a rural county. In addition NCC had a number of benchmarking indicators that were reported on annually to the Environment, Development and Transport Committee.
Councillor Jermy confirmed that as a Member of the Environment Development and Transport Committee, the KPI’s and performance were robustly monitored
Councillor Jermy queried how Officers quantify impact based on budget cuts. County Councillors had been asked to cut the Highways Maintenance budget however it was not clear what impact it would have on the services provided. He had seen the backlog of repairs increase but questioned how much this was linked to budget cuts.
Mr Worden advised the budget had been significantly reduced over the last few years. It had been taken from the structural fund which was County wide and not District specific.
Councillor Wilkinson queried the amount NCC Highways claimed from the extra budget set up by Central Government for pothole repairs.
Mr Worden confirmed it was £1.37 million. The County’s potholing budget was £5 million but had received the additional £1.37 million from Central Government.
Councillor Turner questioned the quality of the pothole repairs. Due to the lack of heat sealing the repair was knocked out very quickly and had to be repaired again. This did not appear to be a very cost effective way to repair potholes.
Mr Worden explained that each pothole was repaired quickly and efficiently and were completed in a permanent state.
Councillor Turner spoke highly of the new Velocity Kit and whilst she understood it cost more with the initial outlay it would give a permanent repair and queried if this was something NCC would consider.
Mr Worden confirmed that NCC had invested last year in four Velocity Kits that were used across the County.
The Chairman asked how the potholes were prioritised for repair once it had been reported online to NCC.
Mr Worden confirmed it was dependent on the road. If it was considered to be dangerous it would be repaired within 2 hours. Generally potholes were catergorised by the defect and the road classification, however A and B roads were given a higher priority.
The Chairman asked that if the owner of a vehicle would have a claim if their vehicle was damaged within the six week period that the pothole had been reported.
Mr Worden confirmed that once a pothole had been identified it would be repaired as soon as practicable. Therefore if a claim were to be received this would be defended as the pothole had been reported and NCC had taken action.
The Chairman challenged the repair process and felt strongly that dangerous potholes were not being repaired quickly enough and once repaired they would soon become an issue again.
Mr Worden said he disagreed.
Councillor Nairn queried the level of compensation claims currently received and once a pothole was reported was there not a duty of care if someone damaged their car.
Mr Worden advised he did not have the figures available but could confirm that NCC were paying less than comparable authorities. The level had increased over the last few years due to the condition of the roads deteriorating. He confirmed there was a duty under the Highways Act to maintain the highway. Once a pothole had been reported NCC were required to take action, but what action was decided by them. People did have the right to claim but NCC had defended over 75% of claims because the Court could see that action had been taken.
The Chairman questioned why when one pothole was being repaired did the gang not repair adjacent potholes at the same time and suggested that this would be much more cost effective.
Mr Worden advised that his should be the case. He stated his preference would be to surface roads as that was the best long term solution but they did not have sufficient budget to do that.
Councillor Richmond highlighted that the average cost for repairing a pothole was £52 and what the figure was for Breckland.
Mr Worden advised it was difficult to breakdown the £52 average which was a media figure. Breckland was about average, North Norfolk had better road conditions but Breckland had better roads than South Norfolk and the Fens. He believed the budget was £2.6 million and whilst a significant portion was for potholes it also covered drainage, signs etc. He confirmed he would respond separately to the meeting with a figure for Breckland.
Counciller Bowes questioned if the quality of the tarmac or the material used in the repairs had deteriorated.
Mr Worden advised the material had improved as had technology and the Velocity patcher used a different method and therefore different material was used.
Councillor Richmond asked if Highways were able to access funds gained by NCC for parking fines.
Mr Worden advised this was not possible and explained that the Camera Safety Partnership and the Civil Parking Enforcement Legislation stated income from speed cameras and parking fines were to be used for safety and administering the scheme and not for road maintenance.
The Chairman said that during the recent adverse weather conditions a tree had fallen and damaged a road significantly. Whilst the Police had sectioned the damage it was still a safety issue. She asked if Highways would be able to assist with this.
Mr Worden advised there was a debate on what legal duty the Council had and under the Highway Act their duty was to maintain the highway not rectify issues that are the responsibility of adjacent landowners. He stated 99% of trees on the roadside belonged to Landowners.
Councillor Jermy read a section from the Environment Development and Transport Committee meeting that set the budget for highways maintenance and felt the Chairman from Environment Development and Transport Committee should be present so he could hear the questions and concerns of District Councillors as ultimately it was Councillors on his committee that set the budgets.
Councillor Hollis raised a query regarding repairs on footways. She was aware of areas that had been repaired but not levelled and as one was outside a school this was not acceptable for young children.
Mr Worden requested the specific details be passed to him outside of the meeting and he would investigate.
Councillor Nairn queried what criteria had been set to determine a trip hazard.
Mr Worden advised a tripping hazard on a footway was 15-19 mm, NCC used 20mm as the intervention level. A new national code of practice was soon to change and the standards have been removed. All cases will now be done on a risk assessment basis and NCC over the next year would be looking at standards and carrying out risk assessments for the intervention levels.
Councillor Turner asked for confirmation that if NCC were made aware of an urgent issue they would respond within two hours.
Mr Worden advised if it was considered dangerous to life NCC would sign and guard it, fill it or close the road.
Councillor Turner gave details of a specific issue on the A1075 and requested Mr Worden note it as a priority and have his team investigate it.
Councillor Wilkinson spoke about the air quality issue in Swaffham and queried what NCC were doing with regard to the directive from the EU.
Mr Worden advised this was not a Highways Maintenance issue but he would take it back to the appropriate team at NCC.
Mr Fowler the Chairman of Little Dunham Parish Council was invited to speak.
He queried that as the highways department were responsible for the drainage of water when it was on a highway how long would it take for action once an issue was reported.
Mr Worden advised once a report was received of a flooded road his team would inspect it. However, they had found that most water on highways issues arose from ditches and farming activities and not due to the maintenance of the road.