March 12 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Less than a third of the local road improvement and safety schemes agreed for Essex during the last financial year have been completed with only three months of this financial year left to go.
Figures show that of the 447 Local Highways Panels schemes agreed, funded and signed off in 2012/13 only 29% had actually been delivered by the start of 2014.
The data, obtained from Essex County Council through a Freedom of Information request, also shows that 6% have been cancelled, 59% are expected to be delivered by the end of the 2013/14 financial year and 6% are earmarked for completion some time in 2014/15.
Local Highways Panels have been set up in all 12 districts of the county. The schemes they put forward tend to be local projects aimed at pavement and crossing improvements, new signs, road safety and traffic management.
The figures show that the best-performing districts are Braintree and Maldon, where 44% of schemes in both areas had been delivered by the start of 2014.
The worst is Colchester with a completion rate of just 15% for the 81 schemes put forward.
Critics say Essex County Council, which has responsibilty for carrying out the work, is falling behind in delivering the schemes because of staff cuts.
Others say the authority is doing the best it can in the face of a reduction in funding from central government and a need to focus resources on other highways issues such as repairing potholes.
Green county councillor for Silver End near Witham, James Abbott, who requested the information, said there was an expectation that schemes agreed in one year would be completed in the following 12 months.
“These figures prove what many people involved in this process had suspected – that the delivery performance on the agreed Local Highways Panels schemes is poor to date,” he said.
“We would also question the likelihood of 59% of schemes being delivered in the next few months, as Essex County Council is projecting.
“These are schemes which local communities and parish councils have asked for to make their local roads and paths safer. The cabinet member for highways and colleagues have failed to ensure delivery and have also rejected suggestions as to how to improve the situation – the Greens have suggested using some of the budget to recruit more staff to help clear the backlog.
“The slashing of highways staff at the council over several years means that the council does not have the capacity to get the schemes designed and delivered on time. We don’t blame the officers. We blame the Conservative administration for mismanagement.”
Joint chairman of the Colchester Local Highways Panel, county councillor Anne Brown, admitted there had been a “capacity issue” but that the backlog had to be seen in the light of funding cuts from the coalition Government.
She said: “The county council has been asked to find huge savings and this means it is operating under tremendous restraints. The highways panel in Colchester were very proactive in suggesting projects and we are working through them but it is more realistic that many of them will take two years to complete.
“There has been an enormous problem with potholes and that over-rides everything else.”
An Essex County Council spokesman added: “All 12 Local Highway Panels have been productively recommending schemes for funding allocation which have subsequently been considered and approved by the cabinet member for highways and transportation.
“Due to the high percentage of schemes to be implemented, Essex Highways are continuing to prioritise the delivery of all these highway improvement schemes. Any schemes not yet delivered are currently in the design stage and are all due to be delivered in the next financial year.”