Express & Star

'We need the sun to shine and us to have patience': Council launches road defect recovery plan

A 12-month “post-winter recovery plan” to tackle road defects following a wet and stormy winter is being launched by Staffordshire County Council.

Photo: Kerry Ashdown

Progress made over the past year to fix the county’s roads has been “undone” by the challenging weather conditions seen in recent months, council leader Alan White said.

This week he told fellow members that urgent action was needed to address the situation. The Post-Winter Highways Recovery Plan will set out how the council will “get back on top of the defects” over the coming months, his statement to Thursday’s full council meeting said.

Speaking at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, he said: “As you will all be aware, this winter has been one of the wettest and stormiest on record, with six named storms and the highest rainfall in February ever recorded. We all know too that this has had a massive impact on highways across the UK and the situation here in Staffordshire is no different.

“Our crews did an excellent job last year to improve our roads. But because of the weather we have seen a massive increase in new reported defects compared to the same time last year.

“This means that a lot of the fantastic progress we have made over the past 12 months has been undone. After listening to our communities, it is clear that something urgently needs to be done to address this.

“That is why we are planning a major drive to tackle this situation and we are calling this our Post-Winter Highways Recovery Plan. Once finalised, we will share how our actions over the coming weeks and months will ensure people will see a difference, so please bear with us and help us support our crews to get this job done.”

Councillor Ian Parry, speaking at Thursday’s full council meeting, said he seemed to have spent most of his time since Christmas apologising to people.

“It raises the fact that roads are the thing that affects everyone, no matter how old you are or where you live, when they turn out to be in a pretty poor state because of things outside our control and the worst winter in terms of wet weather we have seen for over 100 years”, he added.

“It’s had an amazing effect upon the condition of our roads – something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before and certainly something I haven’t seen before in terms of the impact that’s had on our roads. We’re not completely blameless in this; we should have realised earlier that this was the new norm and perhaps we should have re-profiled some of our work to tackle some of those flooding issues.

“We should have worked more closely perhaps with landowners on their duties as well to make sure watercourses flow and that people do not use our highways as some form of drainage ditch. They’re meant to drain off the highway rather than into the highway.

“My cabinet colleagues are living and breathing this at the moment. They are having sleepless nights over this and doing all they can pulling out the stops.

“The programme will receive additional funding yet to be specified but this isn’t necessarily just about money, its about deliverability. We’re in mid-May and it’s only recently we’ve been able to get teams out there repairing roads because you can’t repair roads when it’s flooded or it’s pouring down.

“There is a coherent plan and resources in place. What we need is for the sun to shine and us all to have a bit of patience because we will get there.”

Cabinet member Councillor Mark Deaville, who has taken on responsibility for strategic highways in recent months, said: “I read a fact that there wasn’t one single day in April that we didn’t have rainfall somewhere in the UK. We’re up against it – what it’s left is a massive task to repair our highways.

“We are addressing the winter recovery plan as if it is an emergency because it is an emergency. We’re having razor-like focus on repairing not only category one and and two defects, but the real area of concern are the category three – the defects that are deemed not dangerous.

“Some of those have been hanging about for years and years and they fill our mailboxes up with dissatisfied customers asking ‘when are you going to repair my potholes?’ This winter recovery plan is totally focusing on reducing that backlog of defects and we will be working very closely with all members to do that.

“These challenges we face don’t give me sleepless nights, but I will say that I used to dream of England winning the Ashes or Stoke winning the European Champions League. I’ve now got potholes going round in my head.”