Fears wrong surface led to pot-holes

Transport chiefs in Norfolk and Suffolk have launched an investigation after it emerged that roads re-surfaced last year are already in need of repair because of the icy weather.

Transport chiefs in Norfolk and Suffolk have launched an investigation after it emerged that roads re-surfaced last year are already in need of repair because of the icy weather.

In Norfolk council taxpayers are facing a bill of between �1.5m and �2.25m to fix roads damaged by the winter weather which has led to pothole problems across the county and “greater deterioration” in the state of the highways.

Such is the scale of the problem that there is a backlog of maintenance emerging as officials try to fill the holes, with priority given to the worst and deepest.

Councillors have been alarmed that 52 roads treated last summer have not withstood the freezing temperatures and questions are being asked about whether the wrong kind of surface dressing has been used.

In Suffolk officials are set to spend �1.5m fixing potholes, and are looking at whether changes to the specification of surface dressing used has contributed to the problem. But such is the scale of the deterioration the county's transport chief Guy McGregor said it could cost an extra �20m to get roads back to the state they were - doubling the annual bill.

Transport officials from both counties are to meet in Diss tomorrow to discuss the problem which has affected both counties.

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One of the key questions to be answered is whether because of the recent trend of warmer winters, changes to the specification of dressing used were approved either by councils or their contractors to save money - only to see it rendered useless in this year's cold snap.

Norfolk officials are now in talks with contractors May Gurney to pinpoint the cause of the problem. Both sides believe the failures are part of a wider national problem, but taxpayers could be forced to foot the bill of extra repair work and sweeping if it emerges the authority was to blame.

Roads across Norfolk including Norwich, King's Lynn, Dersingham, Yarmouth and North Walsham have all been affected, but roads in South Norfolk have been particularly badly-hit.

Bev Spratt, the council's deputy cabinet member for planning and transportation, who called for officers to look into the failures, said he wanted answers on what had gone wrong.

“These roads were all surfaced last year particularly in South Norfolk and the outlying areas,” he said. “But the chippings have come off and that's cost us �285,000 for less than half a year.

“Where the surface dressing is coming off, there are now potholes so it is a double whammy cost to Norfolk County Council. Every parish council is creating about the state of the roads and rightly so, they very concerned from the danger point of view.”

The news is more alarming since last June the authority spent an extra �380,000 towards surfacing to help prevent potholes on an extra 28-mile stretch of Norfolk's roads.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk's portfolio holder for roads transport and planning, said he suspected the specification of the dressing had been changed because there had not been “the severity of weather” in recent years.

“We are not entirely clear what's happened: it may be that the specification has been changed,” Mr McGregor said. “The issue will be whether we increase the specification to take care of this and whether there will be increased cost.

“The advice I have received is that the level of deterioration is equivalent to a year's maintenance which is �20m.”

Adrian Gunson, Norfolk's cabinet member for planning and transportation, said officials were investigating the dressing used, but conceded the taxpayer may have to pick up the bill for putting the problems right.

“The binder has been analysed and when the results of the investigation are known we will have to come to an arrangement with May Gurney,” Mr Gunson said. “It depends on the results of the investigation. If county council officers got something wrong there would be some cost to the taxpayer.”

But the council said that the problems are a small fraction of the 900 roads treated each year.

Mike Jackson, director of planning and transportation, said the precise reasons for the chipping loss were still being investigated.

“It must be remembered that that this is the coldest winter in over 30 years, and we know that there is a national problem with chipping loss on schemes carried out late in the season,” Mr Jackson said. “Both ourselves and May Gurney are represented at a national level where this problem is being discussed. Obviously any failures are disappointing, but the surface-dressing programme generally has a low percentage of problem sites requiring remedial attention.

“The material we use is industry standard,” he added. “For environmental and health reasons, highway authorities have not been able to use straight bitumen, or tar and bitumen for many years.

“The precise reasons for the chipping loss are still being investigated. Until the work is complete we will not know where any liability might rest.

“In the meantime the sites are being swept and kept safe, and they are being assessed for any suitable remedial treatment.

“One key emerging issue will be the need to surface dress roads where we have done extensive patching recently, to seal up the road and 'lock in' the work we have done.”

Joe Goldie, general manager for May Gurney's Norfolk strategic partnership team, said the winter damage was not unique to Norfolk and the firm was working hard with the council to resolve the surface dressing issues.

“Only about 4pc of road surfaces that were dressed in the county last year have been affected,” Mr Goldie said. “The precise reasons for the chipping loss are still being investigated and we are co-operating fully with the council with this investigation. In the meantime, we have taken appropriate action to remove loose chippings from these roads by sweeping the surface and advising road users with warning signs.

“Further remedial work to the most heavily-trafficked affected road surfaces will begin after Easter, at the start of the surface dressing season, when warmer weather and conditions will allow for repair work to be carried out successfully.”

Nationally councils spend �63.2m on filling potholes, and motorists face a hefty �600m bill repairing the damage to their vehicles.