Dear resident, The lighter mornings and brighter weather are with us although, as I write this, the rain is pouring down yet again. No prizes therefore for guessing the topic that continues dominate my mailbox. Yes, the condition of the roads. I’m a Buckinghamshire resident and I drive and cycle along our roads pretty much every day. I can see the condition many of them are in and believe me, I share your frustration. I also see many of the posts on local social media. There are many things said that are quite frankly untrue and I would like to put the record straight.
This is not a unique ‘Buckinghamshire issue.’ Over Easter I travelled to virtually every county around us and the roads in each were as bad, often worse. This is a nation-wide problem caused mainly by the weather conditions during this winter (periods of heavy rain, then freezing overnight weather which breaks up the road surface). It is not about periods of wet but relatively ‘warm’ weather during the day. This is why central government is tackling the problem on a national level and set aside a specific pothole fund of £200 million in the spring budget. We have received £2.3 million from this. We are grateful but frankly it isn’t enough and I have been lobbying Government Ministers for much more. Major repairs People of course want to see speedy repairs. As I said in my last newsletter, we have assembled over £34 million to spend on roads this year. This will fund over 200 road schemes. Many of these will be on what is called ‘preventive maintenance’, as required by central government. There will however be a large number of major repairs to badly damaged roads. These will take time to survey, plan, cost and commission contractors to do the work. This does take time and is again best done when the conditions are warm and dry. Please bear with us as this planning is done. Fixing individual potholes We are rolling out the following actions from now:
Increase to eight dedicated teams working on potholes looking to clear 2,500 jobs a month
Have these teams working seven days a week rather than five
Over 2,000 works orders have been raised since the contract started with our new maintenance company, Balfour Beatty
Pothole Pro – our new specialist pothole repairs machine – is ready to hit the road with our fully trained crews from next week
Whilst still making the very worst potholes safe with temporary repairs, we are aiming to fix more problems ‘first time’ during what hopefully will be better weather
From 1 April, we began a new ‘Buckinghamshire Highways’ contract and we have a dedicated, in-house ‘Highways Community Liaison Team’ with council officers responsible for managing and co-ordinating roadworks and repairs within a set local area. They will liaise directly with the local councillors for their area, the local Community Boards, local Town and Parish Councils and our contractors to programme works and use ‘on the ground’ knowledge of specific areas that need attention. The best way for residents to report a defect is to use the ‘Fix My Street’ link and if you have wider concerns about a particular area, please raise this with your local councillor in the first instance so that they can raise it on your behalf with our Highways team. Our teams are working round the clock, seven days a week, working on a system of prioritisation for the most dangerous and urgent repairs. We do know about most defects, and they are on our list – like these repairs we’ve fixed this week in Totteridge Lane, High Wycombe. There were potholes and other defects including the mini-roundabout needing repairs so we have re-laid the surface across the whole location.
Utilities works I mentioned in my last newsletter that another factor that impacts our own repair works and I know causes further disruption for residents is when utility companies need to dig up the roads. We’ve seen many areas where multiple works by water, electricity and communications companies are being carried out and together these have a cumulative impact on residents trying to get from A to B. If their roadworks are poorly reinstated they can also weaken the roads leading to future potholes and road failures. As a council we have limited ability to stop these works and cannot just refuse permits as some residents seem to believe – and ultimately many of these works are about providing important improvements and upgrades to the water, gas, electricity and broadband networks we all rely on. However, we do have a dedicated team that co-ordinates these works and examines the wider impact of sites that are close together. For example, some electricity works have been paused in Edgcott to allow some important upgrades to take place to the water pipes in that area. We will refuse a works permit if there is a request that has too significant an impact, for example, shutting off the water supply to a school during the week (we turned down one such application recently stating the works had to take place outside school hours). On a personal basis I am in communication with a fibre company that are unhappy at the high standard of works and restoration that we require from companies that dig up our roads. Keeping you updated It’s my intention to keep you fully updated as we move round the county this spring and summer, carrying out these repairs and longer-term improvements and investments, and hopefully future proofing before the cycle of damage starts again next winter. We will also be putting out new (low cost) on-street signage to keep residents updated on progress at individual work sites. Tree planting While this winter has had a terrible impact on the roads, I’m pleased that the colder months haven’t negatively impacted on one of our top priorities and I’m delighted to be able to report that we’ve made brilliant progress this winter on our big Bucks Tree Mission. Winter sees the main tree planting season from October to March. Planting huge numbers of new trees is a key part of our wider Climate Change and Air Quality strategy and it’s good to be able to report such positive results this year. The council has co-ordinated the planting of tens of thousands of new trees; from ‘tiny forests’ to three large projects creating new woodlands in the county. Overall, our target is to plant more than half a million new trees on council land in Buckinghamshire; one for every resident. Here are just some of this year’s tree-planting highlights:
14,700 new trees planted at Grange Farm, Hazlemere, to create a new woodland
14,300 new trees planted at Bury Farm, creating a new woodland in Amersham
Planting has started on a whole new wood – Wing Wood, in Wing, which will see 132,000new trees planted in total. 109,000 trees have already been planted here
Many smaller and fantastic community planting projects, such as new ‘tiny forests’ in Bourton Park, Buckingham and Princes Risborough School
Cllr Gareth Williams and Cllr John Chilver at the Bury Farm woodland, Amersham.
Planting a Tiny Forest at Bourton Park, Buckingham.
I can’t mention every single project here, but, driven by the council’s Corporate Plan, it’s been a brilliant community effort this winter across the whole county and it’s inspiring to celebrate such progress in planting a whole new generation of trees in Buckinghamshire. King’s Coronation I must mention the Coronation weekend (6-8 May) which is nearly upon us and I know many communities, like my own road, are planning local events and have made use of the council’s offer to waive road closure fees to mark this wonderful national occasion. I look forward to seeing photos of communities coming together, and don’t forget to familiarise yourself with what’s happening nationally via the official Coronation website. You can also add your event to the Bucks Online Directory (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how to do this), and have a think too about local volunteering opportunities to take part in the Big Help Out campaign which begins as part of the coronation events on Monday 8 May. Locally, school children across Buckinghamshire will be finding out who’s won the ‘design a crown’ competition on Thursday 4 May. With all the bank holidays coming up, don’t forget to check our website for up to date information on changes to bin collections. And finally…an important reminder; you may already have seen in other publicity that there is to be a test of the UK Emergency Alerts service on Sunday afternoon (23 April) at 3pm. It means an alert warning of a threat to life will go to your mobile phone, which will also vibrate, make an alarm sound or read out the alert. This is a test only so please do not be alarmed and there is no need to take any action. I know there is some concern about how this test might impact vulnerable people and information about how to opt out of this alert can be found on the government’s website. Yours,
Martin Tett Leader of Buckinghamshire Council