Devon County Council has invited the Prime Minister to come and see the impact the weather has had on the county’s road network.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, the County Council Cabinet Member for Highway Management and Flood Prevention, has written to David Cameron to ask for the opportunity to discuss concerns over road maintenance with Ministers and Government officials.
The authority is asking Mr Cameron to visit to consider the difficulties Devon is currently facing with an estimated £750 million backlog to bring all of its road network up to a good standard.
It would also be an opportunity to explain the steps being taken by the County Council to drive efficiencies in the way it is working and in commissioning its highway maintenance service.
In his letter to the PM, Cllr Hughes said: “Continued Central Government cuts in funding for highway maintenance are a major long-standing problem in Devon. The previous Government pursued a policy that unfairly favoured urban areas and we have never recovered from that. We are unable to stop the continued deterioration of the highway network and we see a massive backlog building up for the future.
“Whilst we were fortunate to receive around £3 million of Bellwin funding from the Government last year, this only went part way towards addressing the County Council’s actual bill of £18 million for damage to its highways. Bellwin cannot be used to fund permanent repairs, which are the big ticket items facing Councils after major storm damage. This and the extremely high threshold mean that Bellwin is increasingly unfit for purpose when transport networks are impacted by the effects of climate change.
“In contrast, the Winter Damage Grant we received from Government in 2010 and 2011 after consecutive severe winters had a much more positive effect in tackling the deterioration of the network and it would be helpful if there was a similar response from Government in the light of the current conditions and the impacts of last winter.”
Councillor Hughes also commented that Devon is still recovering from the flooding of 2012 and early 2013. Research undertaken by the Heart of the South West LEP and South West Peninsula local authorities into the impact of the floods estimates that the cost to the public purse, local economy and transport exceeds £140 million, and that is before the latest storms are taken into account.
“In Devon we have well established plans for managing such events and there is excellent co-ordination between the County Council, the Environment Agency, District Councils and other authorities,” he added. “During the Christmas storm events the authorities worked in close collaboration to predict, monitor and respond to events and provide the best possible support to communities and individuals. We are now working hard to repair the damage caused by the storms.
“The damage to Devon’s highways network, the largest in England, is a particular concern for the local economy and resilience of our communities. The immediate clear up and cleaning work is only part of the challenge, and with high water tables, a saturated highway network, and predicted freezing conditions to come, the impact on the safety and condition of our highways could be massive.”