I recently got rather overtaken by ‘events’ – like everyone, I suspect. But, now that we all find ourselves stuck at home, I find I have plenty of time to catch up on correspondence.
Many of you were contacting me about potholes and I had intended to write this article about a fortnight ago (seems like a lifetime ago now). At that time, we had just done an online survey, which many of you kindly completed. The results of the survey matched the contents of my mailbox and comments I was seeing on Facebook. The state of the roads was the big issue of the moment. Many of you were commenting about potholes on Facebook and were contacting me to ask when repairs would take place. This was easily the biggest issue highlighted in the survey and it had been my intention to write an article for my website to send out to people, explaining the situation. As I say, I got overtaken by the national situation but let me take this opportunity to respond now.
Essex, in common with other parts of the country, was (and still is) experiencing a high level of defects across the ‘network’ (highways jargon, meaning the roads they look after – ‘we’, in this case, being Essex County Council, the Local Highways Authority for our area. [Please note: Billericay Town Council and Basildon Borough Council do not handle highways repairs]).
Readers will, of course, recall that we had three major storms pass through the UK around that time and, while Billericay was not as badly affected as other parts of the country, we did see huge levels of rainfall. Also, just before Christmas, we had ten days of continuous rain, which saw three and half inches fall – in itself an unprecedented amount of water. Rain has the same effect on road surfaces as ice or snow. It causes potholes, either new ones or making existing ones larger. It was unsurprising, therefore, that there was a huge spike in reported defects during December, January and February. Billericay and the rest of Essex are, of course, not alone. Other parts of the country were in the same position. I know this all too well, as I actually work in Highways myself for one of the London boroughs.
So, I certainly agree with residents that the pothole problem in Billericay is acute. It is, therefore, reasonable to ask what is being done about it.
I have liaised closely with my county colleague, Cllr Anthony Hedley, who represents the Billericay & Burstead Division at County Hall, about the various potholes in Billericay East. He has been making strong representations to Essex Highways on behalf of this ward and the rest of the division. ECC crews were out dealing with the worst of the flooding that was going on and, despite the rain, during the rare dry periods they also sent repair gangs out fixing defects. Hundreds have been done since Christmas but they were unable to cope with huge increase in one go, so we have necessarily seen more ‘Make Safes’ than usual as the teams get to the most critical defects first. This work continues, despite the Covid-19 lockdown.
Understandably, ECC’s prime responsibility is to keep their priority routes safe. All other defects are assessed on how dangerous they potentially are and repaired accordingly. This does mean that we are not seeing as many, what we would call ‘bad potholes’, being repaired. I should stress, this does not mean they are being ignored. They WILL be fixed. But, particularly in the present circumstances, Essex has to divert its gangs to the most serious across the county.
I am informed by Cllr Hedley that the Leader of Essex County Council, Cllr David Finch, recently announced an extra £5 million in the ECC budget for highways and he and I have let it be known that we shall be expecting a fair share of pothole money for Billericay. Once this money is in the system, residents should start to see many more defects being done, as Essex can commission more work to be undertaken.
Cllr Hedley keeps me regularly updated on the work Essex Highways are doing and Cllr Kevin Bentley, the Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, is directing his teams to ensure work is undertaken as quickly as possible given the limited resources and additional strain placed on the service by staff shortages.
Cllr Hedley and myself do encourage residents to keep reporting defects through the Essex Highways website. Please bear with them, as they are going as fast as they possibly can.
In the meantime, Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives.