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Rural roads in Devon and Cornwall under threat as repair bills mount, councils admit

By WMNlynbarton  |  Posted: January 16, 2014

By Lyn Barton, WMN reporter, Twitter: @BartonLyn

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Thousands of miles of rural routes in the Westcountry could be on the road to ruin after cash strapped councils admitted they simply cannot afford spiralling repair bills.

In Cornwall, the council says it may be forced to “manage a maintenance retreat” from their rural road network - a move which could have dire economic consequences.

Meanwhile in Devon, councillors today issued an impassioned plea to Prime Minister David Cameron to come and see for himself the parlous state of the county’s roads where the maintenance backlog is £750million.

Both counties have warned that keeping rural roads up to scratch may be a luxury they cannot afford.

Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council’s cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said the prospects were grim.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said.

“If we do not get the funding we are going to see the whole network fall apart.

“There has been under investment for years and the backlog now is worse than ever.”

He warned that difficult decisions were on the agenda.

“We have got an ongoing shortage of funding and a backlog of repairs amounting to £750million,” he said.

“We need to start talking with communities to see if some sections of road can be abandoned or downgraded.

“If we can agree some reduction with communities it will enable us to make current funding go further.”

Bert Biscoe, cabinet member of transport and waste at Cornwall Council said that tough choices had to be made about rural roads.

He warned that the long term effects of failure to maintain them could be make or break for some communities and businesses.

“In Cornwall we find many productive and value-adding businesses and vibrant communities all lie at the end of minor rural roads,” he said.

“We are moving towards being forced to manage a maintenance retreat from our unclassified rural road network.

“The impact of this both now and in the future will be pressure on community life and a loss of economic productivity.

“Starving us of funds now is storing up the rural deprivation of the future.”

In Cornwall, the road repair backlog bill amounts to an unaffordable £204million - a sum which has gone up £2million due to damage caused by the storms in December and January.

Mr Biscoe admitted he was “very concerned” that with £24 million worth of cuts on the cards on top of £19 million of cuts already made, maintaining the road network may be unsustainable.

“We regularly inspect the road network and address defects as soon as we can however, with a substantial cut in local government funding, there is significant pressure on our budget.

“This has not been helped by the weather conditions which have accelerated the rate of damage to roads.”

The are nearly 8,000 miles of roads in Devon - more than in the whole of Belgium - and it is estimated that £64million would be needed annually to maintain the network in its current condition.

However, this year the Government has allocated just £35million to the sector for the next year.

Bringing the entire network up to standard would cost £750million - which has risen from £687million in just one year mainly due to the extreme weather.

The sums did not add up, said Mr Hughes, which is why he has invited Mr Cameron to visit the county.

In his letter he says: “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.”

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill rejected the idea that Government was starving local authorities of money for road repairs.

He told the Western Morning News: “This Government is investing more than £6 billion in this parliament and £12 billion in the next on road maintenance – enough to resurface 80% of the national road network and fill 19 million potholes a year on local roads.”

He added that the department was making sure “everything that can be done is being done to help those affected by the recent bad weather.”

He said the Government was providing roughly £976million per year for local highways maintenance funding to be distributed to local councils in England.

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11 comments

  • break  |  January 16 2014, 8:50PM

    Let me get this straight,we can't afford to repair our roadswe've already got,but we want to build 47,000 new homes.I'm supposing these new homes must have roads around them,so whom exactly is going to maintain the new roads around these new homes? In order to get to these homes,how many miles of road have to be built?

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  • bullocks400  |  January 16 2014, 6:01PM

    Far too much money still being wasted on nonsense whilst us ordinary mortals continue to wreck our vehicles. Get rid of the councillors who cost us so much and have no clue what they are about, they are a pointless and dangerous luxury we can no longer afford. If there is talk of retreat from maintaining some rural roads then lets all retreat from paying any more tax. No good Mr Hughes wingeing to Cameron, just find the money by saving from other means.

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  • DipStick  |  January 16 2014, 4:59PM

    @Scrumpymonkey: quite agree. Cheap repairs are more expensive in the long run. Here in Chacewater there's a small example that illustrates the point. A manhole cover that's in the main street is/was making a lot of noise when traffic went over it, so the people living there have obviously complained. The road was resurfaced but the man hole cover wasn't fixed. They came to fix the cover so had to dig up the newly resurfaced road thus putting a big square patch around it. That "patch" has now been repaired several times by, seemingly, someone chucking some tarmac into the hole and tramping it down with their boots! I noticed today that it's got a new hoile in it....... You'd have thought that, having had manhole covers on rodas for many decades that the contractors would have figured out how to fix them properly by now, but no. More visits and more expense. Lampposts and piano wire should be suggested for politicians who either lie to the electorate and/or don't use OUR money wisely! That'd make them think .... DS

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  • PenwithPilot  |  January 16 2014, 2:13PM

    All responsibility for roads should be taken away from councils, and dealt with by the Highways Agency via regional contractors (not fake ones like Cormac). That way, we could lose the silly trendy schemes like Tregolls roundabout or fashionable cycle lanes, and let road experts deal with managing roads. Motorists pay the government direct, through VED and fuel taxes, car VAT, etc, so to let local authorities manage the network is ridiculous.

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  • josdave  |  January 16 2014, 12:09PM

    While potholes can cause damage to a car they can cause serious injury to a cyclist or motorcyclist who suddenly goes into one. If they did not waste so much money, the salary of the CEO for example, on pet projects and propping up private enterprises like Eden and the airport, they would have enough to keep up essential services and repair the roads.

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  • moorejohn  |  January 16 2014, 11:42AM

    I strongly suspect that an important part of the county and the district councils are short of cash is because in the good times...pre 2008, money was splashed about on creating non-jobs to keep the unemployment figures down and to add to the importance of councillors and senior staff. Or officers as they like to be called. Departmental Chief Officers were/are paid more for the number of staff under their charge. I think these facts are correct -- I was given them by a senior staffer at the time. Therefore the easiest thing to get rid of now is numbers of people in manual jobs and closing publice lavatories and libraries. I remain convinced that things were better managed in the pre District Council age [1974] when there were just County Councils and town councils....all represented by volunteer councillors. Town councils were much less enthusiastic about large out of town shopping centres which are destroying small towns may I add as an aside.

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  • Scrumpymonkey  |  January 16 2014, 11:32AM

    When will the councillors understand that taking the cheapest option doesn't save money in the long run? Over the last 6 months there has been a large amount of "surface redressing" and pothole filling. Neither of these procedures have been carried out properly and hence a few weeks of rain have quite literally washed this money down the drain. Invest now to save in the future. I will most certainly be claiming against the council for the damages to my vehicles caused by this short sighted financial planning.

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  • cornwall999  |  January 16 2014, 11:21AM

    With Easter approaching and our summer season and the escalation of tourist this will have a detrimental impact on our roads which are in desperate need of repair.! To my knowledge they are going to spend in the region of over 15 million on Council Offices in the Bodmin area which is disgraceful!! Lets hope the new Chief Ex of Cornwall Council will be addressing these serious issues with the transport department. Shirley Sweeney.

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  • First Impressions  |  January 16 2014, 11:01AM

    Most rural roads, excepting the main A30, are in the worst state of disrepair I have ever seen them down here in Cornwall. There are potholes everywhere and they are dangerous. Simply patching these holes up is NOT the answer. Whole lengths of road need re-surfacing as, in the long run, this will prove to be the best answer financially. Many potholes in the Truro - Falmouth area have simply had cones placed around them. Manicstreet's comment is spot on....what on earth is Cornwall Council doing giving council-tax payers' money to a private company. That is appalling....the money MUST be spent on our roads and this is a TOP PRIORITY....not the Eden Project!

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  • rt1379  |  January 15 2014, 9:21PM

    Well .... I have to say that I have been a driving instructor for almost 30 years .... I'm on the road all day, most days .... some of our roads are bordering on dangerous ... they are in a terrible condition .... Repair bills for the cars are higher than ever before... track rod ends, lower ball joints, bottom wishbones, bushes and many other components are now being replaced on a regular basis... The controversial installation of speed ramps/pads that in my opinion are of little to no use are making the problem worse ... maybe its time that I, and other people that use the roads for our income should start sending the bills for repairs to the council ... enough is enough .

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