THE man in charge of fixing Edinburgh’s potholed roads says the city is “getting better” at dealing with the problems caused by wear and tear on our busy streets.
Despite widespread complaints about the vast number of holes in the roads, the city’s “pothole tsar” Gareth Barwell insists progress is being made in handling problems that are on the rise across the whole country. Where the Capital needs to improve, he says, is “transparency and openness” over the closure of certain roads and informing locals over a timeframe for their repair, both areas he was hoping to improve as the council embarks on its latest stage of road improvements.
Up to 24 per cent of A-roads managed by City of Edinburgh Council fell into the “red or amber” category for repairs – around 19 miles of road network managed by the local authority – according to the latest data.
In addition, a further 20 per cent of B-roads and just over 25 per cent of C-roads were found to contain serious surface defects.
Between December and February, transport chiefs fielded more than 4,000 reports of potholes on city streets, including 251 they say “would cause damage to tyres or pose danger to cyclists”.
The Evening News reported in February a backlog of more than 1,500 road defects were waiting to be filled, with an additional 75 potholes reported to the authority every day.
However, transport and environment convener, councillor Lesley Macinnes, committed an extra £1 million investment in road and street lighting improvements in the council’s latest budget in February.
And Mr Barwell, whose role as head of place management also covers litter and waste management, said the authority is improving its system of reporting and dealing with road defects.
Q In December 2017, an Evening News survey found the top level of dissatisfaction among readers with council operated services included litter, waste management and potholes. As all three come under your remit, do you find that concerning?
A “Of course it is concerning, we have to balance all those things. I know one of the criticisms we have had is that we are not as open about why certain roads are being resurfaced or why certain areas have been closed for a certain period of time.
“I genuinely think that, through the improvement plan that we’ve got, we will get better at this, but the communication aspect of it, how accessible we are, how transparent we are; that is what we need to improve on.”
Q What is being done to improve the quality of road surfaces in Edinburgh?
A “The pothole problem – while we are ultimately responsible for maintaining and operating the road network – doesn’t lie just with the council. It’s trying to join up all the different utilities who are responsible for that repair to do it properly, that then lessens the likelihood over time of that pothole happening, the cost to put that right, cost of an injury to somebody, the cost of congestion are all determinant of everybody doing that as well as they can.
“We have been open in the roads improvement plan that the council has done too many temporary repairs – so that bit of sticky plaster we were putting over the pothole – and that was really because we were finding more category one defects.
“Instead of whacking some tarmac on top of it and rolling it, that lasts for days, weeks, months, but that’s what we know annoys residents. They think ‘I’ll take a little bit of disruption if I know that is going to get fixed’.”
Q How will the extra investment in road repairs be spent by your department?
A “We’ve got significantly more resource out treating the potholes. This is not a problem that is unique to Edinburgh and one of the problems we have is that Edinburgh is such a vibrant and successful city which makes it fundamentally harder to shut a road to fix it.
“When we juggle the priorities that Edinburgh has as a capital city, major sporting events, being a festival city, hold up business, those challenges face us. But that is the same in London Boroughs, in Manchester, in Leeds, even in Glasgow – what we are doing through our roads improvement plan is learning from other cities and how they do that.”
Q City of Edinburgh Council paid out over £10,000 in compensation for road defects last year, what is being done to drive down that amount over the next 12 months?
A “The claims issue is highlighted in the roads improvement plan and has informed us on what streets are a priority. Safety inspections and claims handling was one of the big areas that we need to improve on.
“We value every user of the road equally, contrary to popular opinion, whether you are a pedestrian, on a bike, in a car, on a bus. What we need to do is from boundary line to boundary line make sure that transport infrastructure is maintained safely for all those people.”
Q How does your department determine which areas are top priority for resurfacing works?
A “There are some roads where it will be a case of determining structural integrity, there will be road safety arguments, its impact on surrounding services so whether that is doctor’s surgeries, schools and then there’s also a test we have to apply where we have to know if we are going to be doing schemes in the surrounding area, that would be a waste of cash if we do the repair and then 12 months later come in and rip it all up.”
“We have a vehicle driving Edinburgh’s road network with a laser bar underneath it, measuring how pitted the surface is, any depressions in the surface and an overall value for that asset - that basically tells us if it is value for money to rip up the surface and replace it.”
Q Where are the areas you have identified as being at serious risk of road defects?
A “A prime example right now would probably be the around the Scottish Water works at Haymarket, near Eglinton, Palmerston, in those areas. We know fine well that is an area where residents will be frustrated with. A lot of heavy vehicles have come around, but we are already working with Scottish Water to say ‘right, as soon as the diversion is off, you are going to give us some cash and we are going to go in and make those routes safe.”
“I’m sure residents could point to examples in the past where we haven’t gone in and done that but that is why our roads improvement plan has been put in place to let them know we have listened to their concerns and we are making those changes.”
Q How do you feel the city’s road network coped during the ‘beast from the east’?
A “I think in what was a very challenging situation, probably a one in eight to ten year event, we did as well as we could have hoped. In fairness, that wasn’t just because of the council’s work, that was because of partners and members of the community as well.
“What we found in the middle of the Beast from the East was that everybody was willing to chip in in a kind of abnormal situation and we needed to get on top of it. All in all, I think the city managed well and recovered well and we kept the city moving.”