A topic that fills many councillors’ inboxes is the dire state of our roads and pavements. It is the responsibility of the County Council to maintain them – from fixing potholes to trimming back vegetation. But funding runs far short of what is needed. One indicator is the number of insurance claims, which has more than doubled in the past three years – most notably in South Cambridgeshire.
It may surprise you to learn that the council inspects heavily used roads every month, and most other roads every three months; heavily used pavements (mainly around shops) every month, and others annually; and most cycle tracks once or twice a year. Members of the public can also report problems. So, it’s not the case the council doesn’t know about problems; it simply lacks resources to keep on top of them.
It sounds good that the County Council has put more money into repairing footpaths. After all, we need more people walking and cycling rather than driving. But really the council is robbing Peter to pay Paul. There will be less money for road repairs. Although a pothole may only break a car’s shock absorber, for someone cycling, it can cause a life-changing injury. That’s not an acceptable risk, and it puts people off cycling.
The Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership are set on building much more transport infrastructure: new roads for buses and the CAM ‘metro’, dualled trunk roads and new cycle/footways. All of these, and the associated bridges, traffic signals, drainage, and so on, will require maintenance, adding to a burden the council is already unable to bear.
What’s the answer? Government must provide more money – annually, not just ad hoc grants like the pothole fund. We need loading bays marked out on every street so pavement parking can be banned. Utility companies should provide an insured warranty against defects in their reinstatement of road and pavements surfaces. Where there are pre-existing problems, the council should share the costs to get those fixed at the same time. Lastly, our councillors need to consider very carefully the maintenance costs of new infrastructure.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 21 April 2021. The first paragraph contains a correction from the original article.