Millions being invested to tackle potholes across Staffordshire
Millions of pounds are being invested by Staffordshire County Council to improve local roads and the process of repairing them.
The authority is aiming to fix thousands more potholes this year, as well as transforming how the highways service is delivered in the coming years.
Proposals include a “right first time” approach to tackling defects. Members of a council scrutiny committee were given details of the plans at a meeting on Thursday.
David Walters told the committee: “We’ve set quite an ambitious vision for the service over the next five years, founded on two principles; one to deliver an excellent customer experience and secondly to improve the quality of our roads. We have a number of improvement activities already well in train.
“We’ve got £15m additional capital to spend this year and we want to be getting on and delivering that. We will invest in additional safety and quality inspectors which will help us to provide a more responsive service to the customer enquiries we get, through to making sure we are getting additional inspections on the quality of work being carried out by all our various providers.
“Minor capital maintenance is already built into the budget and has been ongoing from 1st April. Hopefully members are starting to see some difference on the ground in terms of pothole and defect repairs going on.
“We’ve got customer service system improvements which our community teams are looking at. That could be anything from chatbots and AI to people at the end of the phone, strengthening our ability to speak to people.
“We’ve got £2.5m for tackling the winter workstack and we’ve got £1.3m for patching additional roads this year, which will then get preventative treatment next year. We’ve got £5.2m on around 6km of structural repairs, mainly into our major towns, and we will start to see that programme of work delivered on the ground from September onwards.”
A further £1m has been allocated this year for the council’s new “right first time approach”, the meeting heard. This will focus on fixing places, rather than just individual defects, meaning that if teams have attended a location to repair specific potholes they will attempt to tackle other nearby defects.
Mr Walters said: “This year the plan is to use that investment to pilot how we deliver ‘right first time’ defect repairs across Staffordshire and what that would cost to embed them into our usual processes in future years. We’ve looked at it from a customer perspective.
“We very much at the moment concentrate on our higher priority defects, which often means some of our lower priority defects are not repaired as quickly as our customers would like. We have often been doing the minimum extent of repair and we want to look at, if we were to do larger repairs, how much extra that would cost.
“They are quite a fundamental change to our current approach. What we want to do through this approach is make sure we have tested out what the future looks like.
“It comes at a cost – our initial estimate was around £7.5m extra funding per year to do that. But this right first time pilot is intended to help us understand more what that change of approach would cost us.”
Committee chair Councillor Tina Clements said: “For me I think we’re already seeing the changes. When you report an issue now you get the before and after photographs so you can see what’s done.
“I’m really excited about this transformation because it’s a good news story and we should be shouting about it. I urge all members to work with their highway management teams.”
Committee member Councillor Ian Lawson, who represents Biddulph North, said: “I’m very lucky that in the Moorlands we have an excellent team and we have had for the last 15 years. But they do seem to have problems with certain jobs.
“I put the question to them ‘what’s the problem there’ and it’s the people from (contractor) Amey with the expertise who are in big demand who have to spend the time out there. But all in all, I think this season Amey and the highways seem to have set their stall out very good.”
Councillor David Williams, cabinet member for highways and transport, responded: “There are certain jobs that will take longer. The engineers from Amey are renowned for how good they are and their services are in need.
“They do a great job for us and they are trying to ensure that we can get the best we can. With the extra investment we have been able to do this time we have been able to halt the decline of our roads.
“We have got financial issues and there’s inflationary issues to put on top of that. But we are trying to make sure we give the best productivity for our communities and the best value.”