Dear resident, Well, the mornings and evenings are certainly a lot darker and it is the time of year when we are already turning our attention to preparing for the colder months ahead. I’ll be outlining the ongoing support available to our residents from Buckinghamshire Council and the Government through this winter in the coming weeks.
In this update I want to focus on the topic that has dominated my mail box; roadworks, following some really poor behaviour by utility companies when carrying out what are often essential installations or repairs. I want to let you know about some changes we’re making to how we work with them when they want to dig up the roads. 'Zero tolerance’ approach to roadworks breaches This year we’ve seen a record number of permit requests from utility firms - such as gas, water, electricity or communication companies - who want to access their infrastructure for repairs or improvement works. We know too that these works cause major disruption to road users across the county. Utility firms have a right to install and repair their networks which are usually under our roads and pavements. The council’s role is to grant permits to allow them to carry out the necessary works and to coordinate these as far as is reasonably practical to try to minimise the impact on the public. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of fines the council has had to issue where they’ve failed to keep to the terms of their permits. Breaches the council has taken action on include:
Failing to display correct details on site, including emergency contacts.
Not taking away temporary traffic lights when they’re no longer needed.
Failing to implement correct traffic management.
Not publicising proposed works well enough.
Failing to remove surplus materials and equipment.
It’s residents and road-users who bear the impact of these failures, and with the rise in the number of works across Buckinghamshire, we’re stepping up how we manage these works:
We’re introducing seven day working for our ‘streetworks’ team, who monitor works across the county, so they can respond more quickly to problems.
We’re reviewing our whole network to best understand where the busiest places and times are, as some road use patterns have changed since the pandemic.
When we’ve pinpointed these areas, we will look at insisting on extended working hours and more nighttime and weekend working to lessen the impact on drivers.
We’ve written to utilities companies to inform them of our new ‘zero tolerance’ approach when they fail to keep to the permitted arrangements. Companies will now receive a fine on first breach and will have their permit revoked if a further breach occurs.
We will lobby Government to increase substantially the amount we can fine companies who breach their permits; this is set nationally and, with the early payment rate of £80, is totally insufficient to act as an effective deterrent.
Overall, we want a constructive relationship with the utility firms who provide vital services to us all, but there must be a balance and we are striving to lessen the impact of these increased roadworks on our residents as I know this has been a real problem for people in many parts of the county. Road repairs As for our own programme of repairs, I’m so pleased we’ve been able to make the most of the decent weather this year over the spring and summer. Driving around I can see that we’ve made a big difference to the county’s roads having completed nearly 21,000 pothole repairs. However, I am not complacent; whilst we have now reached an agreement with the East West Rail project on 20 roads that they will repair, we still struggle to have HS2 contribute adequately to repair the roads that they are damaging, I also know we haven’t got to everywhere yet and our resurfacing programme will continue for the coming weeks before we start to move into our winter road management programme. This is where we start to move to a ‘make safe’ approach to new potholes, carrying out short term repairs while the weather is worse. The combination of wet weather and icy roads can break up surfaces more easily and frankly, it would be a waste of both tax-payers money and effort to invest in ‘bigger’ repairs that simply won’t last during the winter – it’s during the warmer, drier seasons where we do that kind of work and in winter focus on making sure the roads are safe. Our other priorities will be on activities such as streetlighting repairs, gritting, responding to storms and non-weather dependent activities, as well as planning for the next spring and summer road repairs season. How should we spend your council tax? As I said in my last newsletter, as a council we are facing some very serious pressures in the next few years with very big increases in costs. This is particularly true for such areas as Children’s Services, caring for the elderly and adults of working age with special needs, Home to School Transport and providing temporary accommodation for people. These make up well over 70% of what we spend and are all rapidly increasing in cost well beyond the rate of increase of the council’s income. As a result, we are having to look very hard at the other services we provide to see where we can continue to make savings. Some of these decisions will be very difficult. We know investing in our roads this year is a top priority for residents – which is why we set aside the gross figure of £105 million of the current year’s budget. We knew that’s what people wanted because they told us through our ‘Money Matters’ survey. We now need to know what you think our spending priorities should be for next year and where we should look for more savingsas we work on the financial plan now for 2024/25. So please complete this year’s ‘Money Matters’ survey for 2024/25 – it only takes about ten minutes and your views really do matter – our services are 81% funded by council tax so we want you, our residents, to help us to decide how your money should be spent. Can you provide a home to a Ukrainian family? I recently had the pleasure of attending a large cultural event for our local Ukrainian guests, meeting many of them and hearing their personal stories. Sadly, we know there’s no early resolution to the ongoing conflict caused by Russia’s invasion and that many families are still displaced. I’m so proud that we’ve helped so many families here in Buckinghamshire by providing accommodation under the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme. While many sponsors are happy to keep on hosting people from Ukraine, for some it isn’t feasible to continue sharing their home; it means we urgently need people to come forward as ‘Rematching Sponsors’, allowing Ukrainian families who are already settled here the opportunity to stay in the community they’re already established in. We provide wide-ranging support for all sponsors including administering ‘thank you’ payments. These arrangements can be flexible and if you feel six months is too long but you would still like to help, you could consider becoming an emergency or temporary sponsor. Please do give it some thought – we’re with you every step of the way! Find out more on our website.
Yours, Martin Tett Leader of Buckinghamshire Council