An update from Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council image

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22 March 2024
Dear resident,
As I write this it is raining again, so no prizes for guessing the topics that have filled my inbox over the past month. Having driven around all parts of the county and indeed beyond, it is very clear that the weather has done very significant damage in terms of both potholes and flooding. I thought it would be useful to update you on current actions and plans.
Firstly, I hope that you have noticed that this is a national, not local issue. All my colleague county Leaders are reporting similar problems. The BBC have reported on it extensively (
), as have the RAC and industry groups.
The winter and early spring rain this year and last has had a devastating impact on the nation’s roads. Some people write to me and that this cannot be correct as we have ‘winter’ every year. That is of course true, but this year and last have seen abnormally heavy and continued rain. It’s clear this has been one of the wettest Februarys on record with national media reporting the wettest 18-month period since records began. Then by 12 March we had already had more than the normal amount of rain for the entire month. Roadside drains and ditches cannot cope with this volume of rain and this leaves nowhere for the water to go. The surrounding land is saturated and no longer absorbs rain water.
I want to be very frank with everyone that we cannot repair all the individual potholes and other defects immediately. Continual rain makes that difficult as any repairs to wet road surfaces won’t last. Also, we do not have unlimited funds so, like every other council, we prioritise. We have what are called ‘intervention levels’ which are standards set for requiring repairs. These are professionally assessed. We also assess potholes in terms of their severity so we will prioritise what are called ‘Category 1’ above ‘Category 2’. There are different repair timescales for each, with the shortest timescale for ‘Category 1’. This may mean that an individual pothole is filled whilst lower category defects in the immediate area are left until later.
Currently we have 29 crews working around the clock to carry out road repairs and respond to other emergency call outs, like clearing fallen trees or dealing with floods and standing water. This is double the number of crews that we had out during the autumn, as we work as hard as we can to respond to what is seen as a priority for local people.
Where the situation is urgent, we will often do a ‘temporary repair’ to make it safe and then return later to make a permanent repair when conditions improve. Following last year’s bad weather, we carried out over 30,000 pothole repairs. This year, I anticipate we will do substantially more.
In addition to our existing budget, full council agreed to release an extra £5 million from our reserves to spend on the roads. This is really helpful as we can add to our programme of ‘plane and patch’, where we resurface sections of road, rather than an entire road. We are currently prioritising where these plane and patch interventions will be, based on input from local councillors and technicians. Inevitably we will not be able to meet all the requests. Again, this work ideally requires warm, dry weather for best effect.
Please continue to report defects on Buckinghamshire’s Fix My Street (
) and also contact your local Buckinghamshire councillors (
) if necessary.
With the water table exceptionally high and the ground saturated there have been a significant number of flooding incidents. Buckinghamshire Council’s teams have responded to many emergency call outs since Christmas. This has involved clearing standing water and helping stranded vehicles.
In some areas, paved over gardens make this worse with rainwater running straight into the road. Whilst we do clean every road gully every year, with this volume of rain it is inevitable that soil, leaves and other debris becomes washed into gullies and in many cases blocks them again. In other cases, the gullies appear blocked but are actually still clear; however the ground is so saturated the water has nowhere to go. Several roads around the county have flooded, some for several days. In some, like Seer Green, the flooding has dislodged sections on new road resurfacing and left villagers isolated at times. In others, like Chalfont St Peter, the rainwater has breached the capacity of the sewerage system.
At times like this we will support the local water company who have the lead responsibility for foul water issues. It is vital that these are urgently addressed and resolved. Much of Buckinghamshire’s sewage system was built decades or even centuries ago and is not designed for the volumes of waste they are now required to carry, particularly when combined with storm overflow. Whilst I understand the residents who write to me demanding that ‘something must be done’, there are rarely easy or quick solutions to many of these problems.
I have asked for the costs to deliver additional gully cleanses where the effects of the winter weather have been the greatest, but this is very costly and we may well again have to use some reserves for this.
In the meantime, may I urge those of you who drive to please be mindful of the conditions and to adapt your driving accordingly. I have personally seen some worrying driving where cars speed through deep water late at night where there could be deep hidden potholes.
Also, I’ve seen drivers who suddenly see a pothole and then swerve into the middle of the road ignoring oncoming cars. Please slow down, take care of yourselves, and please show others the consideration you would like them to show you. If there is deep standing water, please don’t try to drive through it unless your car is suitable.
Longer-term Investment
I will write separately to update you on our main programme of planned road repairs and resurfacing. This is a continuation of our commitment to spend over £110 million over a rolling four-year period on planned maintenance across the county.
I want to finish off by reassuring you that I and all your councillors understand the scale of the issues. We are doing all we can, within existing resources, to address these issues and bring the roads back up to a safe, drivable standard. Hopefully, with spring now well on its way we can look forward to some sustained drier, warmer weather.
Martin Tett
Leader of Buckinghamshire Council
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