The Menace of Potholes

Chislehurst High Street Pothole 2018-02-20A

You may not be aware of it, but today (8/3/2018) is National Pothole Day (twitter #natioonalpotholeday2018). This is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness of the problems caused by potholes.

Spending on maintaining roads across the whole country is being cut back by local councils to save money. As a result, potholes are increasing. This is creating dangerous roads. Cyclists are particularly at risk. There have been deaths reported of cyclists who ran into a pothole (pensioner Ron Hamer of Manchester is one such case). Roads Minister Jesse Norman reported to Parliament that 22 cyclists died and 368 were badly hurt between 2007 and 2016 where a factor in the accident was a “poor or defective road surface” and the numbers seem to be rising. Bicycles are vulnerable to damage and cars and other vehicles can also suffer very expensive damage.

Now it happens that I had cause to complain to the Leader of Bromley Council (my local borough) only a week ago. This was to Councillor Colin Smith who recently got the top job and I am confident he will do it well as he is more sensible than many Councillors. He was also previously responsible for the Environment portfolio which includes traffic issues so he should know about the subject.

I said in summary that Bromley’s roads seem to be getting much worse of late in terms of numbers of potholes – and that’s even before the recent bad weather. Bromley’s roads used to be better maintained than many other London boroughs but I do not think that is true any longer. But he did not exactly agree with me.

It is true that if one uses Bromley’s fix-my-street web site to report potholes, they are normally rectified relatively soon, particularly if they are dangerous ones more than a few inches deep. One I reported recently in Chislehurst High Street is shown in the photo above. But there are now so many potholes to report I could spend days doing so. In addition there are now so many repeated “patches” on some roads that the whole surface is poor quality and soon another pothole will develop. The general standard of the road surfaces is declining in my view.

Coincidentally Bromley Council recently published a report on their use of the “Pothole Action Fund”. This is grant funding via the Government Department for Transport to local councils. Bromley will receive £113,000 in 2017/18 and a similar amount in 2018/19. They do plan to use it to “supplement revenue budgets”. But they expect expenditure on general maintenance of roads will be reduced because the Mayor of London has cut it back – local boroughs won’t get money from him for that purpose (this is part of Sadiq Khan’s budget restrictions arising from his financial difficulties as a result of past poor decisions which I have covered elsewhere).

So we may see less major road resurfacing projects, but more patching in Bromley. Will £113,000 help a lot? It seems unlikely to me. Anyone who has any knowledge of the cost of road works would not expect that to cover more than a few rushed patches.

Drivers are advised to purchase a car sticker that I saw recently on an ABD Member’s vehicle which reads “I’m not drunk – I’m just avoiding potholes”. It’s available from Amazon.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Parking Enforcement by Camera in Bromley

Readers will probably be aware of the new Deregulation Act which has severely limited the use of cameras to enforce parking. They can only be used now to enforce:

– school keep clear markings

– bus stop/stand clearways

– red routes

– bus lanes

These were granted as exceptions to the general principle of not allowing camera enforcement after representations by local authorities that it would make for great difficulties in enforcement. However, there is still the overriding guidance on operational use issued by the Department for Transport.

Bromley Council had been using 4 mobile camera cars to enforce parking restrictions generally in addition to outside schools, i.e. when outside school opening closing times and during school holidays they were deployed on other roads. These will now be scrapped (and probably don’t have any resale value) as the limited use now possible for them makes them uneconomic. Instead to enforce school zig-zag areas they will be replaced with ten automated CCTV cameras that will be rotated around Bromley’s schools.

These are “automated” in the sense that by software they identify automatically infringements (and simply stopping, not parking, on the zig-zags is an infringement, but a PCN will only be issued after a review by a Civil Enforcement Officer). In addition another ten automated cameras will be used to enforce bus lanes (to replace “manned” static cameras).

The council expects to generate more income from the parking cameras, with no more cost, but less income from the bus lane cameras due to changes to Bromley High Street, resulting in a net small reduction in overall “surplus” on such operations. The Council was very concerned about the impact of the Deregulation Act on parking surpluses which are a significant contribution to overall Council budgets.

This writer asked a question on the legality of the new approach at a Council Meeting on the 30th September. The answers given by the Committee Chairman did not satisfy me so I subsequently wrote this letter to him, which spells out the issues:

Dear Mr Huntington-Thresher,

I must say I was very disappointed by your answer to my question at the Environment PDS Committee last week.

As I pointed out in the meeting, the current “Operational Guidance to Local Authorities” makes it quite clear that the use of cameras (which result in PCNs being sent in the post to infringers) is severely limited. As it says in that document, the guidance “advises all English enforcement authorities of the procedures that they must follow, the procedures to which they must have regard and the procedures that the Government recommends they follow when enforcing parking restrictions” so effectively it has the force of law.

Although I do not wish to encourage anyone to park on the zig-zags outside schools, the use of automated cameras to enforce them is not compliant with the rules on operational Guidance in the aforementioned document or with the Deregulation Act 2015. Indeed the above document says specifically that “Where approved devices may be used, the Secretary of State recommends that approved devices are used only where enforcement is difficult or sensitive and CEO enforcement is not practical“.

As I pointed out in the meeting, I do not see why enforcement by CEOs in the normal way would not be possible outside schools. Even if motorists drive away before being given a ticket they can be sent by post later, and as on zig-zags even stopping temporarily is an infringement there is no need to allow for grace periods. So enforcement would not be “difficult or sensitive” – no more than for any other parking offence. The additional argument was put that people might drive off in a hurry if they saw enforcement happening and cause an accident, but that seems very unlikely. In essence the presence of a CEO is much more likely to deter stopping or parking outside schools which is the whole point of the exercise whereas an automated camera will just result in post-facto fines.

Your response was in essence, well if we get challenged in law and lose the challenges then we will reconsider. But in the meantime we will spend a lot a money implementing these cameras and issuing tickets.

To my mind this is a most irresponsible attitude. Firstly it flouts the law and councils should not set such a bad example, and secondly it might result in the council incurring the liability of having to refund all past PCNs when they are shown to be wrong – and that’s apart from the money wasted on the cameras that might prove to be useless in due course.

The proper course of action would be a) take proper legal advice on the matter by consulting the Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, and/or some other independent legal authority before this plan goes ahead.

I probably don’t need to point out to you that clearly this plan is motivated by financial objectives – namely that using an automated system is likely to produce revenue at minimal cost. But you should not be using parking fines to generate profits, which is again contrary to Government guidelines.

In general the proliferation of cameras everywhere is abhorred by the general public. We don’t wish to live in a big brother society where our every move is monitored by authorities and even accidental infringements of petty rules get penalised.

I ask you again to reconsider these proposals.

Roger Lawson 9/10/2015

Final Comment: Although one appreciates the focus of councillors on running a balanced budget, using cameras and automated processes to issue PCNs is a recipe for disgruntled voters. Perhaps the Council should consider a scheme similar to that recently pioneered by Thurrock Council in Essex – namely training teachers and parents to issue PCNs outside schools.