Council denies whistleblower claims that tonnes of tar meant to fill potholes is being wasted in Northumberland

Claims that a council is wasting tonnes of tar have been strenuously denied.
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A whistleblower told a county councillor that tar, meant to fill potholes, is being routinely wasted by Northumberland County Council.

Cllr Georgina Hill, Independent member for Berwick East, said a whistleblower had shown her photographs of large piles of discarded tar at the council’s Powburn depot.

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She raised the issue at a recent full council meeting, asking: ‘On the issue of fighting potholes - how many tonnes of tar has been wasted by this authority over the last 12 months?

Unused tar in the Powburn depot.Unused tar in the Powburn depot.
Unused tar in the Powburn depot.

‘That is tar, which has been ordered and delivered, hot and ready to fill in some of the county’s countless potholes but then not used and having to be discarded.’

A whistleblower also claimed that tar is being discarded on the side of the roads, often in lay-bys.

The council has dismissed the claims and explained that while there may be ‘isolated occasions’ when tar becomes unusable, this is part of normal construction activity, not a whistleblower concern.

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Cllr John Riddle, cabinet member responsible for improving our roads and highways, said: “Maintaining and improving our roads is an absolute priority for this council and this year alone we are spending around £36m on them.

“We use on average between 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes of tar annually in our highway maintenance across Northumberland.

"Tar must be used whilst it is still hot and once it cools it is no longer usable. We make use of specialist ‘hot box’ vehicles within our fleet to help extend the time over which tar can be used.

"In any construction operation of this scale and complexity there will inevitably be a small proportion of materials which are unusable during normal operations. There will also be isolated occasions when unforeseen issues arise, such as vehicle breakdowns or late deliveries which result in some of the tar being unusable.

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"Any unusable materials are taken to our depots for reprocessing into secondary aggregates for use in construction activity. The unused tar is therefore recycled for use in construction activity and is not wasted.

“The images shared with the council show around 1.5 to 2 tonnes of tar which has cooled, is no longer usable and has been deposited in a recycling bay at our Powburn depot.

"Whilst we seek to ensure that as much of the tar is used as possible there will be odd occasions when small amounts of material become unusable and that is to be expected, it is not a whistleblowing concern – it is part of normal construction activity.”

Cllr Hill said she was perfectly entitled to raise the issue in a public forum as it was an issue of huge public concern.

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She said afterwards: “The council will always point out that resources are stretched, that potholes are an issue across the country and the council is responsible for over 3,000 miles of roads.

"However, the fact that tonnes of tar has been ordered, paid for by taxpayers and then wasted - when our roads are full of potholes - is utterly unacceptable and residents will, understandably, be furious to learn of this.”