A report calling for a fresh approach to fixing pothole in East Sussex is asking for the authority to ‘make repairs without any criteria’, the cabinet member responsible has suggested.
On Tuesday (April 23), East Sussex County Council’s cabinet met to discuss a report from a scrutiny review board tasked with looking at how the authority runs its programme of road repairs.
During the meeting, cabinet members shared their views on the recommendations within the report, which is expected to go forward to full council next month.
Introducing the report, review board member Barry Taylor (Con. – Eastbourne, Meads) said: “The review recognises the council’s increasingly difficult financial position, however the issues under consideration are important to the wellbeing of residents and the economy of East Sussex.
“Overall, the review finds the council’s arrangements for road repairs are robust and there is a commitment to continuously improve the approach to highway maintenance.
“However the committee considers there are some opportunities for improvement, which is outlined in the report.”
In its report, the review board put forward 11 recommendations to the council on a range of highways issues – including the monitoring and repairing of the county’s pavements.
The recommendations also included a call to set up a pilot scheme where all potholes in an area are repaired at the same time – rather than on a case-by-case basis.
Currently, the council takes a ‘reactive’ approach to its road repairs, where a pothole must be a certain depth before any work takes place.
The pilot scheme would see some of these neighbouring potholes repaired at the same time, even if they did not meet the standards of severity.
However the report also called on the council to improve how it speaks with residents about the way it runs its road repairs, with a particular emphasis on how the current approach saves money.
While the overall report was welcomed by cabinet members, some concerns were raised about some of its individual recommendations in a commentary by the council’s director for communities, economy and transport.
In his report, the director highlighted how the council was facing significant funding pressures, making it difficult to find additional funding for repair works.
He also wrote that the pilot scheme could prove more costly – saying a move away from the current scheme could see the council lose Government funding and put it at risk of losing a legal defence against compensation claims.
Several opposition councillors, however, raised their own concerns with the director’s conclusions.
David Tutt, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “The recommendations made demonstrate the scrutiny review members really got under the surface and understood the issues. The recommendations they have made are very sound recommendations.
“One or two, I thought, were a little bit timid in what they were asking for. I personally would have been slightly more robust in the request I was making to cabinet, but they are perhaps more polite than I am.
“The concern that I have is the response [from officers]. I do understand the reasons for some of those responses but many of the recommendations appear to have been batted away.
“I feel that, despite the issues being raised and highlighted, very little or anything will be done in some of those areas.”
These included, Cllr Tutt said, recommendations to find additional funding for pavement repairs in the county and the pothole pilot scheme.
On the pothole pilot scheme, Cllr Tutt said: “The response suggests, because there is only a finite amount of money, it wouldn’t be something that is affordable.
“I would counter that by saying I think it would actually save money to do so.
“What invariably happens is the same team that fixed that first pothole has to come back, maybe a fortnight or a month later, to fix the second one.
“It cannot be economic good sense to do it in that way.”
Several other councillors also spoke in support of adopting the pilot scheme, including Hastings Braybrooke and Castle councillor Godfrey Daniel (Lab).
Cllr Daniel said: “I think the key [recommendation] is about the neighbouring potholes because it makes us all look very silly.
“I understand why it is done and in fairness to the scrutiny committee they did identify where money could be used for a pilot scheme, which wouldn’t mean a wholescale change.
“I hope in the interim time between the cabinet deciding and the full council, they may look a little bit more sympathetically and adjust those recommendations.”
However, these arguments in favour of the pilot scheme were disputed by Nick Bennett, the council’s lead member for transport and environment.
Cllr Nick Bennett: “I would just remind members that the primary purpose of repairing potholes is not aesthetic it is safety and that is why there are criteria for repairs.
“If you asking this authority to make repairs without any criteria, you are actually relying simply on proximity.
“We have just repaired the road surface in Heathfield and using the sort of methodology suggested today they would still be somewhere around Burwash and would have run out of money.
“We have to set out priorities and that is what we do.”