Council repairs backlog sparks safety fears

An increased risk of flooding and traffic light maintenance are just two of the areas pinpointed as problematic in the council report. Picture: Ian Georgeson
An increased risk of flooding and traffic light maintenance are just two of the areas pinpointed as problematic in the council report. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A HUGE backlog of repairs awaiting the city council – including traffic signals, pedestrian crossings, drains and retaining walls – has sparked fears over safety across the Capital.

Replacing “life-expired” traffic lights across the city will take up to 30 years on levels of investment, while blocked drains have been left without being cleared “for years”.

Key roads infrastructure, such as retaining walls, has been “inadequately funded”, according to a secret report.

The findings of the internal council review obtained by the Evening News, but never publicly released, have prompted “a swathe of changes and improvements” in response to its damning findings, transport bosses said.

Despite the lack of investment, the report reveals that transport budgets were under-spent by more than 20 per cent in 2012/13, with the city missing the chance to carry out more than £9.5 million worth of vital improvements.

TRAFFIC SIGNAL REPLACEMENT YEARS OVERDUE

The report states: “It is difficult to sustain arguments to secure ever more scarce resources for important investments when the track record is that important projects are delayed or not delivered.

“It is even more concerning when this review identified a large backlog of investment required to upgrade and refurbish traffic signals and, in particular, signal controlled pedestrian crossings across the city.”

More than 60 traffic signals and pedestrian crossings were deemed to be “life-expired” when the draft report was published in 2013, but it states that with only £200,000 allocated per year, just two or three can be replaced within budget.

Founder of annual cycling event Pedal on Parliament, Sara Rich Dorman, said: “There are definitely concerns that the council’s claims to prioritise pedestrians aren’t always borne out by the way money is spent.

“There are a lot of crossings that are useless for pedestrians – so-called ‘dummy crossings’ where you walk up and push a button, but it does nothing.”

Ms Dorman said the council’s failure to keep up with the backlog was “really unacceptable, given that in theory they claim to be upholding a priority hierarchy of users in which pedestrians are at the top”.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re not being prioritised,” she added.

Conservative councillor Cameron Rose, who sits on the transport committee, said the failure to improve traffic signals was the sign of an “inefficient council”.

He said: “Making traffic signals responsive is an important part of reducing congestion and improving traffic flows whilst maintaining road safety.

“The failure to renew signals – when there was money to do so – is just another inefficiency of this inefficient council.”

A council spokeswoman said that all traffic signals were operating normally, and were regularly inspected. She added that eight signals were refurbished in 2013/14 at a cost of £370,000.

RISK OF FLOODING

The city’s gully cleaning programme collapsed following budget cuts and a management shake-up imposed in 2010, risking localised flooding during heavy rain.

After the cutbacks, vital city-wide cleaning work took six months longer to complete, with half as many gullies cleared per week in 2012 compared with 2010.

The report found that “productivity was poor” and that the service had “deteriorated” following the changes.

It also revealed that hundreds of broken drain covers that stopped any cleaning taking place were deemed to be a “low priority” for council teams and left unrepaired “for years”.

Cllr Rose said: “Localised flooding, particularly resulting from autumn leaves and the general lack of gully cleaning is a source of concern to many of our constituents.

“The unpublished report shows that the service to council tax-payers has deteriorated drastically. I see as yet no sign that the concealed report has been used as a launchpad for improving the service.”

Ms Dorman said: “Gilmore Place, Polwarth Terrace and Myreside Road flood regularly, every autumn. We know it’s going to happen every year. Flooding is inconvenient, but it can also be dangerous, especially for cyclists, as they can’t see potholes or other obstacles.”

‘NO BUDGET’ FOR WALLS

Transport chiefs are storing up “serious problems in the future” because no money is set aside to maintain approximately 85km of retaining walls and other structures supporting roads. Structures including the wall at East Market Street that supports Jeffrey Street and the underpass at the Gogar Interchange are “inadequately funded” with “little or no budget” allocated.

Any repairs to the vital infrastructure, much of which is in private hands, would have to be cobbled together from other council budgets.

A council spokeswoman said: “The majority of retaining walls are masonry gravity walls and require little maintenance. In recent years the cost of repairs to retaining walls have been modest and were contained within existing budgets. Should there be the need for major repairs to a retaining wall it would be necessary to reallocate funds.”

Transport convener Lesley Hinds, pictured below, said the report had prompted significant reforms.

She said: “A swathe of changes and improvements have been introduced in response to the weaknesses identified through our internal review and consultation with customers and staff.

“One of the key things we’ll be bringing in is a planned preventative maintenance system, so that faults can be picked up on and resolved before they become more serious.

“Our new computerised system which help teams record information quickly and accurately has been welcomed by staff and customers alike and is already contributing to greater efficiency.”

ANALYSIS

By Richard Kerley, Professor of Management at Queen Margaret University

Having examined the report, the most interesting part is the detailed discussion of some of the things that appear to be going on behind the scenes.

Some of the practices in roads services seem poor and presumably deeply established as common practice, even though it’s not good practice.

If commissioning staff – those who order the road works to be done – are not given costs estimates for projects, that’s simply inadequate practice.

Some overspend on projects is often seen, in all contract settings, often because you don’t know what is under a surface before you lift it, but the consistent and highish levels of overspend is worrying.

The comparison of pounds-per-kilometre spending between Edinburgh and some other large councils suggests more examination of organisation, practice and outcomes is needed for roads maintenance.

We often say that performance data is both a “dial” and a “can opener”.

The figures on the dial we currently have suggests we need to do some can opening.