A team of local road experts are hitting the ground running as they tackle a backlog of repairs on Herefordshire’s more than 2,000-mile network.
Balfour Beatty Living Places (BBLP), contracted by Herefordshire Council to provide road maintenance, is recruiting locality stewards to serve every ward.
Although the full line-up won’t be in place until mid-August, the scheme is already proving a success.
Newly appointed locality steward Phil Pankhurst took up the cause in Brimfield, where local people had complained for years about the state of the roads, particularly Wyson Lane, which is used extensively by school buses and commuter traffic.
“Because I’m the new guy on the block I got to hear straightaway about the problems,” said Phil.
“There was understandably a lot of general disenchantment after three years of trying to get the work done. So it was fantastic to be able to tell them that resurfacing work is now in the schedule for August, when the school buses aren’t running and weather prospects are good.”
The locality stewards provide a vital link between Ward and Parish Councillors, and Balfour Beatty operations. Brimfield councillor John Stone was full of praise for what Phil has already achieved.
“I’m absolutely thrilled about this,” he said. “It’s a great early success for the locality steward scheme. And I’m really grateful to Phil. Last year Balfour Beatty came back six times to repair potholes but it’s only a temporary solution. In some places the road had almost collapsed. It’s not cost effective to keep coming back to make repairs. Phil has not only achieved his objective but at the best time of year when that road is quietest and hopefully the work won’t be affected by the weather.”
Herefordshire Council is making a major investment in the county’s highways over the next two years, spending an extra £20 million fixing roads that are in the greatest need of repair and have the greatest value to local communities. But even that figure falls short of the estimated £100 million needed to return the county’s highways to 'as new' throughout.
Cllr John Stone added: “I’ve been a councillor for 14 years and been battling for better roads all that time. In the past there have been a lot of complaints about the lack of communication. I must say I’m finding that Balfour Beatty are supplying much more information on what’s happening and where. If the public know what’s happening and when, they will understand the situation much better.”
Other schemes are now being fast tracked including replacing rusty gullies in Stoke Prior and resurfacing at Mansel Lacy and West Hope Hill in Weobley
The Locality Stewards team is just one of a series of initiatives being implemented by BBLP on behalf of Herefordshire Council. Last year BBLP won the council contract to look after Herefordshire’s road maintenance, street lighting and cleaning as well as the responsibility for public rights of way, parks and open spaces.
Thirteen locality stewards are being appointed to look after nine localities, Bromyard, Kington, Mortimer, Golden Valley, Ledbury, Ross-on-Wye, Hereford, Leominster and Weobley.
Rachel Dixon, looking after the Mortimer in the north of the county, said the job was all about prioritising the needs of her patch including roads, pathways, rights of way, parks and open spaces.
“‘It’s a fantastic challenge starting off in a new job from scratch,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to championing local issues and making a difference.”
It’s not unknown territory for Rachel who used to be a Rights of Way Officer for Mortimer.
“Rights of way could be very contentious so I’m used to dealing with a few hot potatoes,” she said. “Because of that, I have good relationships with the community and all the right contacts.”
BBLP’s lengthsman scheme, where parishes employ someone to inspect and clear drains and gullies regularly, is also beginning to make a difference too.
“Gullies at Mansel Lacy have now been unblocked and opened up,” added Phil Pankhurst, “which will help prevent flooding in the long term. BBLP are providing 600 tonnes of material to do the major resurfacing and under the enhanced lengthsman’s scheme, the lengthsman will fill in the smaller holes to finish the job.”