Councillors frustrated by highways 'charade'

By Jake Chown  
Monday 20th December 2021 7:00 am

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HIGHWAYS bosses say the "crumbling" state of local roads is down to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic - but opposition councillors claim they have been in a poor condition for "many years, if not decades".

At a meeting last Wednesday (December 8), the Liberal Democrat group at Gloucestershire County Council put forward a motion which called for a radical review of the way highways services are delivered in the county, with more than 40,000 potholes having been reported in the first half of the current financial year.

But highways bosses have defended the service, saying that the pandemic has contributed to the poor state of the county’s roads due to impact it is having on supply chains and workers.

Highways and flood cabinet member Vernon Smith (Con, Tewkesbury East) said he understood the frustration from other councillors but accused the opposition of sapping staff morale.

He said: "While we are all tucking into turkey, munching mince pies, making ourselves safe and warm, our highways staff will be out there gritting the network and making it safe.

"The pandemic has caused the most enormous problems in supply chain disruption.

"Staff isolation, social distanced working result in being unable to move out or deliver at any certain time."

He added that the council would set up a task group to address the issues.

The number of potholes reported in the county continues to rise year on year, with 24,668 reported in 2019/20 and 36,447 in the last financial year.

More than 43,000 have been reported so far in 2021, which is a considerable increase on previous years.

The Lib Dems say they are frustrated that the Conservative administration chose to amend their motion and remove references to potholes, broken infrastructure and poor quality repairs, and focus instead on the "measly" amounts they have invested in highways.

Cllr Gill Moseley, who represents Newent, said: "Our Highways Managers are trying to do their jobs with one hand tied behind their backs due to lack of funds and a broken system.  

"I wish the Conservative administration at GCC would be honest and stop trying to persuade the public that they are ’investing’  £150m In our roads. Nobody believes it.  

"Never mind ’investing’ - this is routine maintenance and repairs."

Labour councillor Graham Morgan, who represents Cinderford, told last week’s meeting that while highways workers do a good job, public confidence in the system is "breaking down".

"We do things now like a dog chasing its tail," he said.

"It eventually gets nowhere by going around in a circle.

"You get someone to come out and they put a white mark around a pothole and next to that white marked pothole is another one that probably doesn’t quite meet the criteria.

"Out comes the team a week or so later and fixes the one with the white mark around and leaves the other one.

"That’s where the public confidence is breaking down and we need to change that somehow."

Cllr Roger Whyborn (Lib Dem, Benhall and Up Hatherley), who proposed the original motion, commented: "In a hilarious move, the Conservative group tried to blame Covid-19 on the state of the highways, presumably believing that the roads were silky smooth two years ago.

"Sadly, my residents can see straight through this charade, as they have been living with crumbling roads and dodgy repairs for many years if not decades.

"We need a change of political leadership, and instead we have an administration putting their fingers in their ears and refusing to hear the complaints of the public who are living with dangerous and embarrassing infrastructure."

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