Extra £5m of pothole and road repair cash en route to Lancashire - here's how some of it will be spent
The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced a £200m nationwide cash pot during his Spring budget and Lancashire County Council is now considering how it will spend its share.
The authority’s latest cabinet meeting heard that a full list of proposed schemes will be drawn up for approval next month. Not all of the money will have to be spent on pothole repairs and resurfacing, with the upkeep of bridges, traffic lights and lampposts also being deemed appropriate uses of the additional funding.
However, some of the money has already been reserved for schemes that cabinet member for highways and transport Rupert Swarbrick told colleagues had to be approved urgently in order to ensure that the work was done during a “hopefully…favourable summer”.
Another £522,000 will be added to the £4.3m already earmarked for what is known as “surface dressing” - a special process that not only improves the condition of carriageways, but seals it to prevent future damage caused by water entering cracks in the road.
The additional routes that will benefit from the funding are yet to be determined, but cabinet members heard that they will be major roads and are likely to include those previously identified for such work back in 2020, in anticipation of a Department for Transport grant which ultimately did not come to pass.
Half a million pounds of the extra cash will be used to double the budget for so-called “preventative find and fix” activity to rectify defects and preserve the condition of minor rural routes.
Meanwhile, a series of lower classification roads in West Lancashire will also be surface dressed - drawing upon £265,000 of the new money - after the ballooning cost of materials saw them dropped from the initial list of pre-planned repairs for 2023/24. The routes that will now get the specialist treatment are Pippin Street, Dam Wood Lane, Heatons Bridge Road and Hall Road, which span the Lancashire West, Burscough and Rufford and Ormskirk divisions.
A decision on how to spend the remaining £3.8m of additional cash will be taken by the cabinet at its next meeting in May.
As standalone highways authorities, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen councils each received their own allocations from the governments’ £200m fund - of £266,800 and £428,000, respectively.
County council Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali welcomed the funding, but called on the ruling Tory party to use it to enable the adoption of a Labour proposal that was rejected at the authority's budget-setting meeting in February to reduce the minimum depth a pothole usually has to reach before being repaired from 40mm to 20mm.
For the second time in as many months, County Cllr Ali also suggested that “political fixing” was at play in the prioritisation of repairs by the authority. He said that longstanding calls from Labour’s Mid-Rossendale division representative Sean Serridge to improve the southbound carriageway of the A682 in the borough had been met with the response that the route was “not suitable” to be listed for repair.
However, Rossendale and Darwen’s Conservative MP Jake Berry last week appeared in the local press commenting that a campaign to get the route relaid had been successful.
“What’s changed?” County Cllr Ali asked.
County Cllr Swarbick responded that the u-turn was a result of a new condition survey being carried out across the network showing further deterioration of the A682 carriageway, as well as the fact that the route was deemed suitable for repair using recycled material from the development of Samlesbury Enterprise Zone, which “brings the cost down significantly”.
“So whilst it would appear that we’ve been lobbied, we were already acting upon finding a solution to this problem anyway,.” explained County Cllr Swarbrick, who last month stressed that all resurfacing decisions were dictated by County Hall’s 15-year Transport Asset Management Plan in order to avoid accusations of politicking.
In March, the county council agreed just over a hundred scheduled resurfacing and surface dressing projects that it would undertake during the year ahead - many of which include multiple individual routes - using part of its £28.1m share of the government’s standard annual highways maintenance fund.
However, as the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed at the time, the authority assessed that it would need up to double that amount in order to make the “sustained investment” required to drive up standards on the 4,600 miles of road network for which it is responsible - even after factoring in the separate £9m that it has earmarked for “reactive” maintenance of potholes that appear during the year.