The Parlous Condition Of Cambridgeshire Roads

wind_willows17:07 Tuesday 2nd July 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: What do you think of the state of the county’s roads? It’s officially being admitted they need £300 million worth of work done on them. Yes, £300 million worth. That’s to fill in the potholes, shore up the subsidence, cover over the cracks in the cycleways, and repair the broken pavements. How many stories have you heard of people tripping on pavements, bikes and cars being damaged by holes in the road, even accidents being caused? It’s a sorry state of affairs that apparently is worsening to a cost of £50 million every year. The Council is planning to spend £90 million over five years, but simple maths will tell you that things are only going to get worse. So what can be done? Joining me, the opposition Liberal Democrats on the County Council are calling for a county-wide plan and a special task force to be set up to tackle the problem. Their transport spokesperson is councillor Susan van de Ven.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Hello Chris.
CHRIS MANN: And also with us is the Cabinet Member for Growth and Planning, Conservative councillor Ian Bates. Hello Ian.
IAN BATES: Afternoon Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Would you deny there is a problem, and there has been for a while?
IAN BATES: No I wouldn’t deny it Chris. I think everybody sees the state of the roads, so I don’t argue with the facts.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. What have you tried to do about it?
IAN BATES: Well what we tried to do was put the investment in, which was the £90 million that we’ve put over five years. We recognised it last year. We’ve done something about it. I accept the figures as I have said, and we have got a plan. Susan’s seen the plan. The rest of the Council has seen the plan. And we’re getting on and repairing those. having said all that, I still accept there’s a lot to do, and it is an issue throughout the County.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Well the first Full Council meeting since the appointment of new officials and the election and so on is on July 16th, and at that meeting Susan you are proposing that there’ll be a specialist taskforce. Tell us why.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Well I think we need to get to grips with the whole problem long term. The plan that the Council has now is dealing only with the money that it can afford to spend, which covers only a small fraction of the works that need to be done. The deficit will only grow. The work that needs to be done will just increase over time, and we really don’t have a plan to address the whole wide problem.
CHRIS MANN: As I said, the maths are pretty simple. £300 million quid already needed to be spent. It’s getting worse at £50 million a year. £90 million’s being spent over five years Ian. At what point do you say, enough is enough?
IAN BATES: Well obviously £90 million is a lot of money. £90 million repairs a lot of roads. It won’t repair all of them. We’ll accept totally that. The question I think actually is how do you bridge that gap? Where does the money come from? Ok? And I think we must remember that Council don’t only look after us. They build schools, they look after care of the elderly. So the question actually is not do we have a plan, or do we accept the figures. It’s actually how do we bridge the gap. So I guess the challenge for all of us throughout the Council, all councillors, is how do we bridge that gap, and how do we strike the balance in the current economic climate that the country’s in.
CHRIS MANN: A fair point Susan van de Ven, or do you have a magic wand to do things differently from how Ian’s party’s been trying for a decade or more?
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: I don’t think we’ve looked at the entire problem. our plan does not address all of our roads. It only addresses some of our roads. And it’s not fair, when we go back to our constituents, and say sorry, we can’t repair that pavement where you fell out of a wheelchair last week because it doesn’t fit into the top percentage. That’s not a good enough answer. And we need to get to grips with it.
CHRIS MANN: So I presume that wasn’t just a gratuitous example.
CHRIS MANN: That’s actually happened.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: I’m afraid I watched someone fall out of their wheelchair in Melbourn High Street. I’ve been told that it happened there frequently. I reported it. The stretch of pavement didn’t make the priority list, and it remains the way it was. This is unacceptable. And interestingly the problem with that particular pavement isn’t apparently a structural problem. It’s a surface problem. And as we know potholes have to be measured according to depth and so on. And they can still be very dangerous. And when people are having to file insurance claims because they’ve had damage to their cars, when people hit a crack in the pavement and fall off their bikes, when they fall out of a wheelchair, or when they simply trip and fall, it’s not acceptable, is it? Nobody would argue that it is.
CHRIS MANN: You’re on a bit of a hiding to nothing Ian, because while you’ve got no money in the bank to pay for all this, but you hear the complaints, and this is a massive problem, isn’t it?
IAN BATES: Yes it is, and I accept Susan’s. But obviously if accidents do happen, whether it’s about a cyclist, whether it’s about somebody in a wheelchair, obviously the County will look at that, and will endeavour to fill those potholes and sort it out. because obviously we don’t want to, if you like, have that .. any of us want that to happen to anybody. But it does need sorting. I accept that.
CHRIS MANN: And yet somehow there’s £1.5 billion to build a new road, the A14. There’s lots of other money elsewhere to build new things, the A10, the A11, the A47, they’re all having lots of work at the moment. And yet the roads where there are more people, cycling and walking, are not being fixed. Is that a fair reflection?
IAN BATES: It is to a point. But I actually .. just to go back Chris, I think when you look at Douglas Alexander, who is in the same party that Susan’s in, he did make an announcement last week that there would be more money available for maintenance. And the County Council certainly will bid into that money. Now we don’t know the details at the moment. Ok? But that was an announcement last week. It did come with the Budget. It did come with the A14 money. So we’ll bid against that.
CHRIS MANN: And the other thing I don’t think anyone’s saying here is Cambridgeshire’s not alone, is it? You travel the length and breadth of this country. You go to cities everywhere, and the state of the roads is a lot worse than it was, certainly in my recollection, twenty years ago.
IAN BATES: I think that’s true, but also remember there’s different types of roads. You’ve got A roads, B roads, and you’ve got cul-de-sacs. And those need to be looked at in a slightly different way.
CHRIS MANN: Now there are different problems in different parts of our county. South Cambridgeshire as I understand it has only got £100,000 in the first half of this financial year. But Fenland has got £1.7 million, because of all the flood damage.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Actually I think it was drought damage.
CHRIS MANN: Well drought followed by flood probably.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Yes. You mentioned Chris the A14 and other big projects, and also the fact that this is a national problem, and it is a national problem indeed. But it’s very interesting that here we are in Cambridgeshire talking a lot about huge projects, big infrastructure projects, trying to contribute to the economy and so on, and why can’t we also think big about this very depressing and very difficult project?
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Another question for you, lady and gentleman, and that is in a year’s time, almost exactly in a year’s time, the Tour de France Stage 3 will start from Cambridge. A highly prized event taking place here. Are we to imagine that the finest cyclists in the world are going to batter their way over potholes out of Cambridgeshire? Surely someone’s going to put their hands in their pockets for that, aren’t they?
IAN BATES: Yes I’m sure you’re quite right Chris. It’ll be interesting actually, tomorrow evening I’m actually in Swavesey, at the cycling conference. So I suspect that I might get the same question tomorrow from the audience.
CHRIS MANN: They’ve worked the route out, but they haven’t announced it yet.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Well I think mountain bikes are in order actually.
IAN BATES: She could be right.
CHRIS MANN: A good summation. But I mean this is a serious point, isn’t it?
IAN BATES: No it is a serious point Chris, and obviously once we know the route, which won’t be till later in the year, October I understand.
CHRIS MANN: I know now, but it’s not been announced.
IAN BATES: Oh Ok. Yes. Well you’re perhaps better informed that me actually because I don’t know it precisely.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. But here you are of course Susan. You’re calling for a taskforce. And you want some serious attention to this.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Well you know we will all be asked to consider next year’s budget in a few months time. And I’d like some advice about how to look at this in the long term.
IAN BATES: I don’t argue with that. I just go back to the balance that we have to strike between care of the elderly and the capital programme for building schools, and it’s actually trying to get that balance right, particularly with a 10% reduction that we’re going to have to face in this financial year.
CHRIS MANN: Are you both saying that yes, you’re going to do your best, but we’re all going to have to put up with these potholes and the subsidence and the cracked pavements for years to come?
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: No. We need a plan. We don’t have a plan. We have a time bomb.
IAN BATES: Well I think we do have a plan. Ok? It has been announced. It is on the website. You can see it. It will have another plan later on. It will have a five year rolling programme. But I accept the fact that there is still a problem.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you both for joining me.