New road maintenance arrangements were top of the agenda for councillors last week. The Essex County Council area manager for West Essex, Paul Hardy came before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of Epping Forest District Council. After a brief presentation, councillors quizzed him on road maintenance and improvement arrangements. It was the first opportunity for councillors to put their questions since the transfer of the Highways Agency from Epping Forest District Council back under direct Essex County Council control in April.
Paul Hardy explained the process for implementing a new partnership agreement between the County Council and District Council, confirming that he expected it to be signed soon. In the meantime, he confirmed that both organisations were working to the spirit of the agreement. He also confirmed that under a special programme, the `Maintenance Initiative`, extra money was being channelled into road improvements around the district.
Following the transfer of staff, the local highways office is now based in Harlow. Several District Councillors were concerned about the responsiveness of the new office to their requests for action. Mr Hardy said that he was aware that the service was not meeting its targets but he believed the situation would improve following changes to the arrangements with contractors next year.
Mr Hardy confirmed that the office had 25 staff vacancies out of an establishment of 65. However, he also pointed out that for smaller, lower priority repair jobs, it often made economic sense to batch a number of jobs together. Urgent pothole repairs should be carried out within 24 hours. Other repairs were given seven day and twenty-eight day completion targets. He acknowledged that such targets were not being met and apologised to councillors for this.
Councillor Mrs Di Collins, Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee thanked Mr Hardy for attending the meeting. Afterwards, she said: Epping Forest District Council may no longer have direct control over staff but we continue to take a major interest in the condition and maintenance of the district`s road network. The agreement between the District and County Councils gives us quite a large say, especially when setting the priorities for roadworks in our area and maintenance of the minor road network.
She continued: Members gave Mr Hardy quite a bit of feedback on local perceptions of the first six months of operation under the new scheme, both positive and negative. We will no doubt invite Mr Hardy back for further debate once the new arrangements have had a chance to bed in properly.
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