The agendas for county council meetings are, arguably, not usually riveting reads.
But item eleven on the list for debate at the next meeting of Northamptonshire County Council’s full cabinet is worthy of a little bit of attention, focussing as it does on the thorny issue of keeping roads maintained.
The council’s discussion paper notes how “successive severe winters and increased rainfall” have “accelerated deterioration of the road network”.
To this end it proposes some pretty radical (for councils that is) ideas:
- Reclassifying some roads to reduce the amount of inspection and maintenance required
- Reducing some rural carriageway widths – to make the roads akin to the single track roads which are prevalent in areas of Devon and Cornwall for example
- De-cluttering signage and street furniture so there is less to maintain
- Making assets redundant. I.e. closing bridges, stopping up roads and footways where they are underused and an alternative exists.
In reality all these ideas have a degree of merit. The strains on the maintenance budgets will only increase as legally enforceable obligations such as social care and environmental services mean councils are forced to divert more money from ‘non-essential areas’ (trying telling that to the voters who routinely put potholes at or near the top of the list of things that their local authorities should be tackling) like transport.
It is easy to understand why road conditions have deteriorated so markedly in recent years and not all of it is down the weather. After the war there were little more than two million cars on Britain’s roads. Today there are a record 28 million. At the same time the length of the road network has barely changed and currently sits at 213,000 miles of minor routes.
The idea of making some roads single track is to try and prevent the ‘nibbling away’ of the tarmac at the verges, caused by a succession of vehicles trying to squeeze past each other on a carriageway which is barely the width of a single car let alone two.
There also has to be some sense in revisiting the prioritisation of roads for maintenance and seeing whether there are those which can be downgraded or abandoned to nature; though on our crowded island it would seem that most roads are vital to somebody at some time and the opportunities for what the council proposes scarce.