North Yorkshire continues to invest in and to improve the quality of its roads network – one of the largest in the country.
Already this year the council is about to embark on major £4m junction improvement in Scarborough and has undertaken major resurfacing projects around Ripon, Middleham and Masham. For businesses such as Theakstons brewery in Masham, this is good news, particularly the resurfacing of the historic Masham bridge which carries the A6108 over the River Ure.
“We are blessed with good fortune to have such a beautiful river through our town but it requires a bridge that is fit for purpose to get us from one side to the other,” said Simon Theakston, the brewery’s executive director. “We send our beer wagons over Masham bridge every single working day and so it’s vital to us that the bridge and routes to and from the town are up to the job.
“North Yorkshire is therefore to be congratulated for restoring the bridge and road surfaces to such fine condition. It sends out a great signal to all the holidaymakers and visitors who travel into our area that we are proud of our county and look after its infrastructure and assets. We are delighted with the outcome which will serve us well into the long term.”
The county’s highways stretch for 5,750 miles from Scarborough to Bentham and Teesside to south of the M62 – many of them through dales and over moors. As such, they are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, such as last year’s Beast from the East, which lasted for at least a month. This can lead to some short-term deterioration on some stretches.
But targeted and strategic investment particularly in the rural network from the county council’s own funds, as well as additional cash from Government, has meant that over time the roads continue to improve.
The county council’s highways budget this year shows a record level of funding (£55m) and this investment will continue to be prioritised.
“Our priority is to create a road network that is fit for purpose, to keep the county on the move and support business and our residents,” said County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Highways and Transportation. “This is a never-ending endeavour and we work hard to maintain road condition across all routes, which laid end to end, would reach India. It’s a mammoth task, but one we take extremely seriously.”
A report to next week’s executive on the county council’s performance across all services, shows that roads in need of maintenance on the largely rural and less heavily road network, categories 4a, 4b and 5, had increased by two per cent – from 16 to 18 per cent – according to road condition data from January 2019. The category 5 roads, which account for less than 1 per cent of the network, had deteriorated the most. However, it is likely that in a lot of cases the data was gathered before maintenance work had been carried out later in the year.
“We are clearly disappointed about any worsening of condition of our roads,” said Cllr Mackenzie, “no matter how minor. But the longer term trend firmly shows an improvement. Indeed, the additional investment we have made in highways maintenance in recent years has helped to mitigate the worst effects of the harshest of winter damage. Without this investment, the condition or our roads would be significantly worse.”
The county council has contributed an additional £8m from its own funds in recent years as well as £24m for the rural roads network provided through the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership. Last autumn the Government allocated additionally nearly £14m to North Yorkshire for road maintenance.
The county council is now proposing to undertake a conditions survey of the entire road network every year – currently 50 per cent of the network is surveyed every year – to get a more accurate assessment of how investment affects the carriageway condition.
“We are constantly seeking to improve what we do in order to be ever more effective as a highways authority,” said Cllr Mackenzie. “We have already agreed to set up a ‘Teckal’ company from 2021, wholly owned by the council, for the delivery of the operational highway maintenance services, rather than using a contractor. Through more direct accountability for the works on the ground we aim to deliver a ‘right first time’ service with the customer continuing to be at the heart of everything that we do.
“It’s a model which would allow us greater control and flexibility over our highways service delivery, while removing the contractual constraints that exist with the current arrangements.”