'Right approach on roads, but never enough money'

Pothole patching in Northumberland.
Pothole patching in Northumberland.

Northumberland’s A, B and C roads have been getting better in recent years, while the unclassified routes – around half the county’s network – have been deteriorating.

For 2017-18, figures show that maintenance should be considered on three per cent of the county’s A roads, which is in line with the national average, although the data was collected before the severe winter.

Over the past 10 years, Northumberland’s principal roads have seen a gradual improvement and, following a worsening after the extreme snow in 2010, the same is true for the B and C roads.

However, in line with national figures, unclassified roads have deteriorated over the past few years, which could be attributed to the severe floods of summer 2012 and winter 2015-16, according to a county council report.

It adds: ‘The unclassified road network forms around half of our network and therefore a drop in condition is a matter of concern.’

The authority also collects data about potholes and defects that are reported by the public and through inspections, as well as data relating to insurance claims.

While not necessarily directly linked to the overall condition of the roads, extreme weather can have a major impact on the network, for example, with the number of hazardous defects requiring a response within 24 hours increasing significantly during the harsh winter months earlier this year (see graph).

While this information provides a fairly good picture of the state of our roads, limited resources mean the council can only survey a small proportion of the footway network – around 65km or three per cent of the total – annually.

Efforts are being made to ensure highways inspectors can cover footways as well while carrying out their inspections.

But a Northumberland success story is that of bridges, where a tool developed by the council helped demonstrate the need for extra funding and secure £6.7million from the Government.

Following this work, 68 per cent of the county’s bridges are in a good (27%) or very good (41%) condition, up from 55 per cent before. The number in poor or very poor condition has dropped to 18 per cent from 30 per cent before.

This information came in the latest in a series of reports to the communities and place committee as the council implements the revised highway maintenance code of practice.

The fifth and final document dealt with how the local authority’s highways team manages its performance and finances.

Committee chairman, Coun Jeff Reid, said: “I don’t think you can fault the plan, it’s about the money allocated to it. The officers have got the right approach, but there’s never enough money.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service