Alistair Bradley the Labour Leader of Chorley Borough Council has called for Lancashire’s Tory political bosses to hand his authority control of the cash used to repair the borough’s roads.
I believe that decisions over routes in need of repair would be better taken at a more local level than under the current system. At the moment the Conservative run Lancashire County Council the region’s highways authority is responsible for keeping the roads in good condition something that they are singly failing to do.
Whilst there is no doubt that the top-tier authority had been “starved” of the money needed to maintain the roads properly by the Tory government in Westminster, I fundamentally believe that Districts Councils across Lancashire are better placed to respond to residents’ priorities. We have the ridiculous situation where local conservatives are managing a growing number of potholes and blocked gullies and are either not demanding more money from their national colleagues or not being listened to.
This situation is failing the residents of Lancashire and the wider country. Since 2020 the conservatives have cut funding to deal with pot-holes by £18m across the North-West of England.
In days gone by, there used to be some kind of democratic input into where the money got spent by the county council, but these days it is a lot more centrally controlled and there is no vehicle for getting things escalated. We have some terrible roads in the borough – such as the A6 and B5252 Euxton Lane just outside the hospital and near to the M61 motorway junction.
If Lancashire Tories can’t even repair high-profile roads like that but are doing up rural lanes, I would argue that the priorities are all wrong. Residents understand that argument. Surely a road that’s got thousands of people going down it each day is of a higher priority than those used by only a few residents, even if they are in a terrible state.
Unfortunately the county council’s bible for prioritising road resurfacing, known as the Transport Asset Management Plan (TAMP). Introduced in 2015, it laid out a 15-year strategy for the pre-planned maintenance of the 4,600 miles of highway under the authority’s control.
The policy saw a focus on the main, so-called “ABC roads” for the first five years of its operation, followed by a shift to unclassified routes, like those on residential estates.
Last month, County Hall agreed on how to spend its highways repair budget for the year ahead – with £28.1m available for planned maintenance via a government grant and a further £9m provisionally being allocated for “reactive” work to fill in potholes once they exceed the 40mm (almost 2”) depth that the authority sets as its usual threshold for action. The scheduled activity will see more than 100 resurfacing and surface dressing schemes carried out over the next 12 months. However, this is the wrong work in the wrong places.
The rest of the £28m pot is spent on footpaths and other highways infrastructure like bridges, lampposts and traffic lights. Whilst there is definitely “no glory” in Chorley Council taking on highway repair responsibilities. Unfortunately, residents do not distinguish between the county and district councils when it comes to who they blame for the state of the roads
I am confident that some other District Councils in Lancashire would gladly join in taking over the running of the roads across a wider footprint in order to make it a more economically viable venture.
Here in Chorley, we see the difference made by a local authority being in control of its own roads when you go over the boundary from Wigan into Chorley, the roads get a lot worse. At the moment, the County Council is not keeping anybody happy – and we believe we could be more democratically accountable to the majority of people. Having knocked on doors recently, everybody raises it as an issue in our area and the Conservatives just don’t have any answers.
It also needs to be flagged up that in addition to the highways spending plans agreed last month, Lancashire County Council will get a £5.1m share from the additional £200m of government roads maintenance funding announced at the chancellor’s recent budget. Details of how that extra cash pot will be spent in the county are expected to be confirmed in May.
In fact, it has been reported that the County Council assesses that it would need “sustained investment” of up to double its current government highways maintenance grant – between £51.9m and £56.2m – in order to improve the overall condition of the local highway network. That estimate has risen from £43.3m a year ago as a result of the rising cost of materials and we need the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to put some real investment into the country’s infrastructure
The Local Government Association (LGA) last month claimed that it is costing some councils up to 22 per cent more to repair every pothole because of rocketing inflation we all know was caused by the ill-fated Liz Truss/Kwasi Kwarteng budget fiasco. The organisation also said that the government spent 31 times more per mile maintaining motorways and A roads last year than it did on funding councils to repair “crumbling local roads” – and warned that it would take almost a decade and £12 billion to tackle the local roads repair backlog.
The current system to repair our roads is broken. The Conservative government needs to invest in both roads and proper public transport in Lancashire. However, I am also a firm believer in local decision-making being a key part of gaining community buy-in and we need to see greater devolution of budgets, firstly from Westminster to the County and then down to District or even Parish level where appropriate.