County Councillors Report March 2023

CONTENTS: Potholes, Micro asphalt road resurfacing, Gulley Clearing, Cambourne busway vote, Parking enforcement, Special Educational Needs, Care Funding held back

Infrastructure, highways, busways and maintenance


I am not going to pretend that our roads are in a good state of repair.  Many are failing.  So why can’t the County Council get a handle on this?  13 years of austerity.

The funding for road maintenance comes from Central government is allocated by road type and includes £0 for maintaining footpaths and cycleways.   It is topped up by the County Council but there is only so much money. The level of funding to the County Council has been cut and cut over the last 13 years.

Perhaps the biggest issue here is that roads which have ‘failed’ and require a full resurface such as Milton Road, Impington are not being resurfaced.  Milton Road is always on the list for resurfacing but every year other roads which are a higher priority (ie busier or more critical) push Milton Road off the list.   Instead thousands and thousands of pounds are spent fixing pot holes on roads which should be resurfaced.  Station Road (High Street to raised table at Early Years centre) has now effectively failed.

There is not enough money to maintain the highways network so each year they degrade further. A recent industry report estimated it would cost £14 billion and take 11 years to ‘fix the country’s roads’, the government allocated £200million additional funding for potholes for the whole country. This means the 11 year estimate is likely to get longer.

What is the County council doing?

-staff recruited to fill vacancies including Highways Director, Highways Assistant Director for Maintenance, Chief Executive of the County Council, Director for Place and Economy (number two in the County Council which Highways report to).

-work has begun to change the culture of the County Council.  The highways service was demoralised operating in a County Council where there had been a culture of bullying as evidenced through an independent report.   

-comprehensive re-evaluation of roll of highways maintenance officers, results of consultation being implemented now

-invested in technical solutions such as Karbontech gulley cleaning

-invested more money in road fixing (although inflation means more money goes less far) and adjusted budget allocations so that road gritting money can be used more flexibly ie it can be spent on other types of highways maintenance in years when gritting is not required

The next step is to review the contracts with external contractors.  This could have been done earlier, however, when you review a contract if you don’t fully understand the issues you can negotiate a worse deal. You need to understand the issues and have confidence in your staff to get the best deal possible.

And finally….

Financial year 2022/2 was a perfect storm in terms of highways maintenance.   The impact of inflation meant that the budget for highways went a lot less far as all operational costs rocketed.  In addition to that the winter was particularly hard on the roads, there were prolonged periods of freezing often followed by heavy rainfall which washed away both road surfaces and temporary pot hole fills.   The local highways officer hopes to get more on top of pot holes in the next month or so. 

Why is the County Council resurfacing the wrong roads?

Burrough Green, The Coppice and Park Avenue are receiving the ‘Microsurfacing’ treatment.  Whenever roads are chosen for these programmes I receive complaints that the wrong roads have been chosen. This is a programme which is relatively low cost, this is not a full resurface so Station Road north section and Milton Road are not eligible.  This is a process designed to increase the operational life of roads so if you perform this relatively cheap treatment on roads which are in a good condition you can stop pot holes forming and the roads deteriorating ie you can extend the roads 20 year working life span further.   It is a treatment specifically designed to save the Council money and is about keeping roads in good working order for as long as possible.

Gully cleaning and flooding

As you will see from the photos I have chosen one of my favourite moments in March.  The road by the Peace memorial flooded, I reported the flooding, at school pick up time I saw the gully clearing team out in that location.  When it next rained flooding had stopped. 

My working observation is that if I report one flooding incident on a week day I get attention.  So please forward photos and location details.  When I report more than one flooding issue I don’t necessarily get the same level of action.

Gully cleaning has improved but there are still residual issues.

Road sweeping and footpath clearing are district council responsibilities if you find that debris on the footpath or road is impeding your ability to walk or cycle local or seems to be leading to blocked gulleys please do report it to your district councillors.  Tidy streets help us maintain our highways network.

Cambourne busway vote

The situation in Cambourne is acute. It is a town built with no decent public transport, a lot of affordable housing and families who moved to Cambourne with young children who are now growing up. There is further housing planned for Bourn and Cambourne.  The current public transport provision is dire, with those travelling to Cambridge facing 3 hour round trips and only 2 buses per hour.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) have gone back again and again to the question of an on-road service vs a busway in order to best deliver public transport. The busway option runs through an orchard whilst the on-road route risked disturbing Madingley Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland. The on-road route would fell trees in some very sensitive sites and is very close to the American Cemetery. An independent assessment has confirmed that the busway is on balance the better option.

The loss of trees in Coton Orchard from the busway has been a flashpoint for concerns. No one wants to agree to cut down trees but the busway has been designed to minimise the number of trees lost, almost of all of those felled in the orchard will be commercial fruit trees less than 30 years old. The orchard will be reduced in size but not lost. The scheme commits to a net biodiversity increase of 10-20% and we as Councillors will make sure this happens. The orchard owners felled a large part of the orchard to build the Coton garden centre and to further extend it.  The orchard owners have campaigned to cancel the busway as it goes through the orchard but have not suggested it go through their car park instead.   

The busway will also provide bus stops for other villages such as Coton. There will be a large park and ride style car park and space for cycling.  Increased bus travel and cycling will lead to carbon reductions from far fewer car journeys. This decision has been in development for many years and it was time to be decisive.

Parking enforcement in South Cambs

An application will shortly be made to the Government with a decision expected to be made by October. The council is also preparing similar applications for Fenland and Huntingdonshire which it expects to send to the Department for Transport (DfT) later this year. Highways officers have worked closely with South Cambridgeshire District Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and Fenland District Council on the development of the schemes.

Education, a fairer Cambridgeshire

Special Education needs

Pressure on school places for children in Cambridgeshire with additional needs should be eased thanks to an agreement forged by the county council with national Government which will see almost 600 new school places created in the next three years. Without this ‘Safety Valve’ agreement the council would have to make widespread cuts in its support for children with SEND ie those children with EHCPs.

The package of support announced by DfE is worth £49 million. The Government has also allocated a further £11.3m for capital funding to Cambridgeshire to support new SEND provision on mainstream school sites. The funding will help tackle a gap in the budget for SEND provision which was expected to hit around £58 million by the end of March. The County Council will contribute £9million over 5 years.

Requests for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) in Cambridgeshire have more than doubled from 3,429 in 2016 to more than 7,000 currently.

The council will use the new funding to create 463 new special school places. There will also be extra support for 105 pupils at mainstream schools by September 2026 through a programme of expanding current sites and building new schools. The council has also applied to the free school programme for two new special schools in Fenland and Gamlingay.

Care – Central Government goes back on promises for a fairer Cambridgeshire

Care Funding Held back

Senior councillors at Cambridgeshire County Council have criticised the Government for failing to address pay and conditions for social care workers to help recruitment.

Ministers announced this week that half the £500m promised to help address staff shortages would now be held back.

With an average 9.5% vacancy rate in the social care sector in large shire county areas such as ours – higher than the national average – tackling the challenge of workforce capacity was a key plank of these proposed reforms, and a reduction in funding coupled with a lack of focus on pay and conditions will ultimately make it almost impossible to drive forward improvements.

The government’s White Paper allocated £500m to support this work, the new paper halves this to just £250m over the next two years – an unrealistic figure that simply will not meet need.

Parking enforcement in South Cambs

An application will shortly be made to the Government with a decision expected to be made by October. The council is also preparing similar applications for Fenland and Huntingdonshire which it expects to send to the Department for Transport (DfT) later this year. Highways officers have worked closely with South Cambridgeshire District Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and Fenland District Council on the development of the schemes.

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