Potholes go months unfixed despite council claims

The steps in Queen Street a man fell down due to broken lights. Picture: Jayne Wright

The steps in Queen Street a man fell down due to broken lights. Picture: Jayne Wright

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Potholes and broken street lights go months without being fixed despite claims the Capital is meeting tough repairs targets, the Evening News can reveal.

Dozens of faults flagged up via the council’s online reporting system as part of an internal review were embarrassingly ignored, according to a secret report.

The findings undermine city claims about its performance in meeting its own targets, and provide a damning assessment of the quality of some repairs carried out by council staff.

Repairs to potholes are “very poor”, with patches around bus stops so bad they fail within hours, prompting complaints from Lothian Buses.

Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “It is clear from this report that the high standards we strive for have not always been met.”

As part of the review, 26 faults with street lights, illuminated traffic island bollards, drains and roads were registered via the council’s website with repairs service Clarence between January and April 2013 in a “mystery shopper” exercise.

Despite receiving e-mails confirming that the faults had been logged, none had been resolved five months later. Official performance figures published by the council for the same period claim that well over 90 per cent of lighting faults were fixed within seven days.

The report also sheds light on the standard of pothole repairs being carried out, with patching jobs lasting “just a few hours at best” and requiring “six or seven” visits to fix the same fault. One pothole was found to have “resulted in nine accident claims”.

It adds that the council’s own neighbourhood roads staff believe “that this service is a waste of money”.

Repairs are of a shoddy standard, it concludes, in part because staff view being sent out on Clarence jobs as “punishment work”.

Cllr Hinds said: “Obviously I am acutely aware that repairing defects on roads, pavements and lighting is a top priority for residents but it is clear from this report that the high standards we strive for have not always been met. However, I would urge the public to continue reporting any problems to us because the earlier we know about a problem, the sooner we can get it fixed.”

Poor road repairs have claimed a number of victims in recent years. Cyclist Chloe Torrance suffered serious facial injuries after hitting a pothole in Princes Street in 2012, while Jaimie Harse was nearly hit by traffic after tripping over a pothole while walking with her daughter in Portobello Road in the same year.

And in 2011, a man was rushed to hospital after falling into a cellar on a stretch of Queen Street where four broken street lights weren’t fixed for three weeks.

Cycling campaigner Ian Maxwell, who chairs the Spokes Lothian group, said the poor standard of repair work was discouraging cyclists from taking to the streets.

He said: “Sometimes the repairs don’t seem to be very well done. Cyclists are extremely sensitive to the quality of road surfaces, particularly at the edge of the road where the standard is worse. You have got some appalling surfaces in Edinburgh.

“We do certainly have a backlog of repairs. Leith Walk is one street which is in a bad state because it hasn’t been maintained. I would hope that we could have a comprehensive programme to catch up, because I think that would be money well spent.

Cllr Hinds said a new IT system introduced in the past three months in response to the findings of the report was already yielding improved results and would increase confidence in performance figures.

She said: “Last year’s review was part of our strong commitment to improving the transport service in Edinburgh by making it more effective and efficient. We have taken action following this review, which included the mystery shopper exercise.

“We started using the new computerised system three months ago which means we have made considerable improvements on recording road, pavement and lighting defects since this report was drafted last year.

“The system is currently being rolled out and allows us to accurately record and track all roads and street lighting repairs across the city. It will give up-to-date information on the reported fault and can even text individual customers with accurate information about the progress being made in fixing it.

“The other major benefit to this system is that gives us accurate performance information. This means we can be confident that the data used for our key performance indicators is up to date and we will now look at revising them to reflect the new information.”

ANALYSIS

By Neil Greig, Policy director at the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Drivers don’t really care who runs the roads department as long as they get smooth roads and good value for money. It appears Edinburgh motorists are getting neither.

You only have to look next door at West Lothian Council to see an award-winning roads unit that is customer-focused and which delivers high standards. These days councils should be sharing resources and knowledge to ensure that their biggest asset – their roads – are well looked after. Apart from sharing resources, such as in Ayrshire where three councils have combined their road functions, good practice should include detailed asset management, easy reporting lines and clear targets for pothole repair times. Edinburgh should also be shifting from a short-term patch and go approach to more long-term permanent repairs.

The key to attacking the backlog will always be long-term funding rather than lurching from good years to bad. But, if Edinburgh don’t sort out their training, management and quality control problems they will continue to waste irreplaceable funds.

POOR BUS STOP WORK DRAWS COMPLAINTS

THE standard of pothole repairs around bus stops is so poor that it has drawn complaints from Lothian Buses.

The council’s secret review reveals that repair teams are called out again and again to fix ruts and potholes near bus stops using materials and techniques that can’t withstand the weight of dozens of buses a day.

The report states: “Lothian Buses certainly believe that many of the temporary repairs made at bus stops last just a few hours at best.”

It goes on to say that records show “numerous examples” where the same pothole has had to be fixed “six or seven times”.

A spokeswoman for Transport for Edinburgh said: “We work closely with the city council to ensure the safety of our staff and passengers at all times.

“We report any areas of concern directly to the council roads team.”