Council looks to government over £260m roads bill

Lesley Hinds wants Holyrood to devolve more money so local authorities can attack the massive problem of potholes. Picture: Kate Chandler
Lesley Hinds wants Holyrood to devolve more money so local authorities can attack the massive problem of potholes. Picture: Kate Chandler
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Vital repairs to the Capital’s crumbling roads costing £260 million will never be completed without financial help from the Scottish Government, city transport chiefs have warned.

After a week of damning revelations laying bare the inefficiency and mismanagement behind the city’s cracked and rutted carriageways, city bosses fought back, saying progress had been made to address the failings identified in a secret internal review obtained by the Evening News.

But Scottish Government officials have rebuffed the calls for help, saying the city gets its “fair share” of cash for roads.

• Comment: War of words over roads bill won’t help

Today transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Realistically, the only way we’re going to get to the bottom of the backlog is with money from the Scottish Government, because we’ve got schools that are in poor condition, we’ve just agreed phase two of the Water of Leith flood defences – how do you balance all these priorities?”

She added: “Whatever the funding situation has been previously, the 2012 Scotland Act actually gives the Scottish Government the power to borrow up to £2.2 billion a year.

“We could dramatically improve the quality of Edinburgh’s roads and pavements, over and above the investment the Capital Coalition has already allocated, if some of this new money was devolved further. That way, local authorities could invest significantly more in local priorities.

“With all councils facing extremely challenging financial choices for the foreseeable future and given the fact that voters in every part of the country are crying out for proper investment in roads and infrastructure, I would have thought the Scottish Government would be harnessing all the powers at its disposal to make a real change nationwide.”

Sitting in her office at the back of City Chambers, where the sound of tram bells can be heard through the open window, Cllr Hinds described the report as “a blunt assessment of where the weaknesses are”.

She said: “That was a year and a half ago. What we’ve been doing as a council is putting in place a structure that will deliver those changes that the public want, and deal with the failings or weaknesses in how we provided the services.

“Those failings were numerous, starting with the way managers ran the service. Within the roads division, the report is very clear, and I’m very clear, that there has been poor management.”

On the ground, in cobbles and Tarmac, the quality of work done was poor, too. “It’s quite clear, as the report says, that it wasn’t good enough,” Cllr Hinds accepts. “But what we’ve done since then is the important point.”

A raft of measures have been adopted in the year and a half since the report’s shocking findings first landed on Cllr Hinds’ desk.

Behind the scenes, the management of the roads service has been shaken up in an effort to increase efficiency and cut the costs that make road repairs in Edinburgh twice as expensive as the same work in Dundee and Aberdeen.

Utilities companies that are responsible for many of the shoddy repairs on city streets now have 100 per cent of their roadworks inspected, with more fines handed out for botched jobs. “You’ll not see the benefit of that for a few years, but by doing inspections of every utility, you can make sure they do a proper job,” Cllr Hinds said.

And in an attempt to make decisions about which roads are repaired more transparent, a new scoring system has been introduced that should make it clear to residents how long they have to wait before their street is resurfaced.

Local people can push their street further up the list of repairs by reporting potholes, cracks and defects.

Cllr Hinds said: “That’s often a complaint from the public. They say, why have you done that bit, and not that bit? We need to be better at explaining that.

“There used to be roads where you could say, in 20 or 30 years there will never be work done on them. We’ve changed all that.”

Already in effect for carriageways, she says plans are on the way for cycle routes to be given their own potholes league table for repairs.

Additional funds for capital investment would possibly lead to innovations in road maintenance that could reduce the longterm cost of future repairs.

One possibility is work to reinforce roads around bus stops deep below the Tarmac, so that the surface doesn’t buckle as quickly under the weight of 13 tonne buses several times an hour. “There are lots of things that if we had more resources, we could do,” Cllr Hinds said.

She also called on the Scottish Government to consider legislation requiring utilities companies that dig up the road to pay for full resurfacing – not just patchwork repairs.

“Why is it they only repair what they’ve dug up? Why can’t they repair from pavement to pavement and do a proper job?”

Opposition councillors reacted angrily last week to the revelations in the report, claiming they were denied access to the document despite repeated requests to see it.

Cllr Hinds rejected the complaints, insisting that the review was only ever meant for council staff and officials. “It was an internal document that was a challenge for staff to deliver a better service,” she said.

Responding to calls for additional financial support, a Scottish Government spokeswoman insisted that funding to councils was being protected and that Edinburgh was getting its “fair share”.

She said: “Local Government has been treated very fairly, despite the UK Government’s cuts to the Scottish Budget.

“The local government finance settlements will be maintained in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 at over £10.6 billion,” she said.

“Edinburgh City Council receives its fair share of total local government funding in 2014-15. Its capital allocation amounts to almost £84 million, with the Council being able to decide how over £50m of this is to be spent to meet statutory obligations and local needs and priorities.”

Report tells how Capital roads went to pot

It doesn’t take a civil engineer to work out that the city’s roads aren’t in great shape. Complaints about potholes are as common in Edinburgh as complaints about the weather.

But how have things gotten so bad? That question was answered last week as the Evening News lifted the manhole cover to reveal why the city’s roads service has let down residents.

The reasons were contained in a damning review of the council’s roads and transport division that was never made public or shown to councillors. It describes how mismanagement, inefficiency and poor standards were rife when it was circulated among senior managements and council leaders in 2013.

Chronic under-investment has gotten so bad that it would cost up to £260m to resurface every road in Edinburgh needing attention – a 30-year job given current budgets, and four times more than previously thought.

Repairs done by in-house roads teams are often so poor, they fail within just seven years, and widespread inefficiency means the same work costs twice as much as in Aberdeen or Dundee.

Lack of budget control means winter road services such as gritting and snow clearing are at risk from spending cuts.

A “mystery shopper” exercise showed that targets for lighting and pothole repairs are being missed, and safety concerns have been raised about the backlog in maintenance to traffic signals, drains and retaining walls.

However, transport bosses say the review was a wake-up call and that reforms are already taking hold.

WHERE ARE THE WORST POTHOLES?

we’ve revealed the shocking overall condition of Edinburgh’s crumbling roads network this week. Now we need your help to tell us where the worst troublespots are.

Are there potholes on your street or along the roads on your regular commute which are not being fixed? Tell us where they are and send us a picture if you can.

Get in touch by emailing newsen@edinburghnews.com with your picture and contact details with “pothole watch” in the subject line.

Send your photos to Pothole Watch, Edinburgh Evening News, Orchard Brae House, 30 Queensferry Road,

EH4 2HS.

Altrernatively, click below on the “send a photo” button section where you can upload your picture.