Tories call for spending on rural roads

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.
Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.

Two Conservatives in Northumberland have teamed up to call for recent Government funding to be used to tackle the crumbling roads in the rural west and north of the county.

As reported in the Gazette, Northumberland was awarded more than £2.7million for pothole repairs from the Government earlier this month, far more than anywhere else in the North East.

It is part of an emergency payment to help with road repairs following the wettest winter on record and will pay for the repair of 3.3million potholes nationwide.

The North East as a whole was awarded £6,298,272, with more than a third – £2,736,241 – allocated to Northumberland. The next highest was the £1,241,952 given to Durham, another local authority with many rural roads.

Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, said: “We think this extra money is a good opportunity to try and tackle the problems with the roads in the rural north and west and make a real difference for the future.

He is concerned that money budgeted to repair non-principal roads in the whole county is not split proportionately between the north, west and south-east of Northumberland.

“Obviously the number of miles of these minor, non-principal roads in both the north and west of the county amount to thousands of miles, whereas in the Labour heartland of the south-east there is a limited number of these minor roads, yet that is where a large amount of the current spending is going,” he said. “It is without doubt the case that the minor rural roads have fallen into disrepair in recent years.”

Conservative parliamentary candidate for Berwick, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “The state of our roads is one of the main issues that people raise with me as I go around the constituency.

“We do not have very good connectivity in any case. There is limited mobile phone coverage in Northumberland and there is no high-speed broadband in most rural areas. The roads are absolutely essential to keep our communities going and also to grow the local economy and to increase the number of jobs.”

It comes as the county council’s Labour administration has pledged to clear the backlog of pothole repairs by the end of June. In May 2013, the pothole backlog stood at 35,247 outstanding repairs, which was reduced to 12,213 defects at the end of January.

At the county council’s Budget meeting in February, council leader Grant Davey announced an extra £600,000 to accelerate the programme of pothole repairs across the county, pledging to tackle the remaining backlog by the end of June. This project will not lead to the repair of every pothole in the county, but clear the existing backlog so that new faults can be repaired more quickly.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, policy board member for streetcare and environment at Northumberland County Council, said: “This additional funding is very welcome and confirms the need for funding that we have demonstrated in our bids to Government. It will enable the council to accelerate its work to repair roads and structures which have been badly affected by extreme weather.

“Like many local authorities we are having to deal with the deterioration of highways due to long-term underinvestment and unusually wet weather which has caused tidal surges, high river levels and surface-water damage.

“The funding will allow work on roads, bridges and other structures, as well as repairs to landslips. A programme of work is currently being confirmed and we will be starting to roll this out at the earliest opportunity.”

To report a pothole or to find out more about the repairs programme, visit the potholes site.