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Why no pavement repairs, ask Liberal Democrat Councillors

September 3, 2015 11:18 AM

A debate on pavement repairs (or rather, lack of them) was led at Newcastle City Council by Liberal Democrat Councillor Greg Stone. This is an edited version of his speech,

The North Heaton Ward Highways Works Update 2014 lists seventeen proposed schemes for 2014/15, all of which are at "design stage", "feasibility, "consultation", "on hold", or "not started". All have a construction date "to be confirmed". Not a single scheme has actually been delivered.

Something is going wrong in the way the Labour Council is allocating resources and managing projects when it comes to highways and pavements issues. Yes, resources are scarce and funds not as readily available as in the past. But we question the way in which the council is allocating what little funding is available.

In previous years, the Liberal Democrat administration recognised that road and pavement maintenance was a priority issue and that action was needed to tackle a huge maintenance backlog. Not many members remember it, but prior to 2004 there was an Audit Commission report into the council's highway maintenance performance under Labour, which was far from complimentary. We significantly increased ward allocations for tackling local priorities and progress was made, but that has now ground to a halt.

Instead there is a lack of transparency. Decisions are now taken by the Cabinet Member on allocation of the meagre resource available for road and pavement maintenance. In 2014/15 there were no individual ward budget allocations for this purpose, for the first time that I can remember in 17 years, although our research shows that a total of £960,000 was allocated to pavement improvements in a handful of wards - Blakelaw received £162,000, Elswick £291,759, Newburn £120,000, Walkergate £68,000 and Westerhope £110,000. Other wards got nothing. Not all of us got the expensive repaving treatment like that of the alleyway outside a Labour councillor's house - which cost more than £70,000 and took many weeks to complete.

There appears to be a policy decision to allocate resources to improvements in the vicinity of shopping areas and medical facilities, and a further release of £357,000 of carried over 2014/15 funding is planned. Another £500,000 is being withheld until later - perhaps this is planned as a pre-election splurge. There appears to have been no consultation with ward members or communities about its allocation, and no reference to the highways and pavements condition surveys, which show that more than 600 streets across the city are deemed to be in the worst condition.

In my ward we have been informed by officers that the shopping area at Newton Road is to get new paving. This was a surprise to us - residents had not requested it, and the inspection report says it's not a priority. We have pointed out that a matter of yards away, the surface of Newton Place is in exceptionally poor condition and is dangerous to the elderly residents of the Spinney and the users of High Heaton Library and the Sure Start centre. We have asked if this money can be redirected to this project which is clearly of greater need - we have been told it can't. Had we wanted repaving for shopping areas, we would have suggested the Red Hall Drive shopping area which is far more unkempt and could use cosmetic improvements.

Residents of my ward have an expectation that they get basic services in return for their council tax. They would rather the streets were swept, bins emptied, and pavements repaired than some of the priorities of this administration, which include the creation of a Cabinet Secretary, the appointment of community artists, and of course, the £45m redevelopment of the Civic Centre. They rightly ask why the council doesn't care about repairing the streets in worst condition in my ward and elsewhere in the city. It is a cause of huge frustration that an out-of-touch Cabinet member is spending on unnecessary improvements rather than basic maintenance, with a marked lack of transparency. We believe the city deserves better.

We have heard the usual complaints that this situation is the result of Government cuts. But that does not excuse the mismanagement and lack of clarity about allocation of the resources we do have. It does not excuse the significant failure of this administration to produce an updated Highways Asset Management Plan for the city's road infrastructure, or to provide promised updates on delivery. Nor does it excuse the failure to investigate alternative delivery models - it worked for upgrading the city's street lights, and it could work for roads and pavements too. There is nothing stopping the Labour Party from doing so except for a lack of will and a lack of leadership, for which we fully intend to hold you to account.