Complaints about Roads in Carmarthenshire Soar as Maintenance Backlog Grows, Says Report
COMPLAINTS about roads in Carmarthenshire are soaring and the £63 million maintenance backlog is growing, a damning report has said.
There have been 3,545 complaints about the condition of the county’s roads in 2023 compared to 267 complaints in 2015.
And the number of sub-standard roads will increase from around 10% of the county’s network to more than 20% in a decade’s time, based on current levels of expenditure, a council highways report said.
It added that 18% of drains surveyed on A roads were blocked and that 8% of them were not fit-for-purpose. The report said there was currently no capital funding whatsoever for pavement resurfacing next year.
The report was discussed by the council’s place, sustainability and climate change scrutiny committee, one of whose members – Cllr Gareth Thomas – said some rural roads had reverted “to almost a horse and cart situation”.
Cllr Edward Thomas, cabinet member for transport, waste and infrastructure services, said more funding was needed from central Government. “It is simply a case of money,” he said.
Cllr Colin Evans said: “Here we have yet another report which dramatically illustrates the continuing, spiralling decline in our roads. It highlights that we have got a (maintenance) backlog of £63 million, which is increasing – it’s £8 million a year just to ‘stand still’. Yet our budget for 2024-25 is something like £0.6 million. It’s unsustainable – absolutely unsustainable. Looking at the situation with our bridges, it’s the same.”
He added: “It’s a statutory function of the authority to maintain highways, footways and bridges, but we are not managing that. We are literally running out of fingers to put in the dyke. The money is hopelessly insufficient.”
He said he sympathised with the cabinet member. “You must be tearing your hair out,” he said.
Cllr Dorian Phillips said he felt sorry for council staff who surveyed and repaired roads because they were under increasing pressure.
He wondered what councillors should do when constituents came to them with concerns about roads. “What should we do – say nothing?” he said. “We have got to forward these complaints.”
Richard Waters, the council’s highways and transport services manager, said he would prefer councillors to report road defects.
Mr Waters said the report didn’t pull any punches. “I think it’s right to recognise that there is a deterioration in the (highway) asset, and it’s continuing,” he said. “The current investment levels are leading to an increasing backlog, and there will be consequences to that.”
He added: “There is an adage that a stitch in time saves nine – that’s very much true for highway management. Unfortunately we have not got the resources to make many stitches.”
Carmarthenshire has more than 3,500km of roads – the second largest of Wales’s 22 councils – and the third highest level of traffic. But in terms of spending per kilometre of road, it’s 18th out of 22.
The report said £4.3 million of capital funding was spent on highway repairs in 2022-23, which was much less than the £8 million “stand still” requirement but enough to keep larger roads in a reasonably stable condition. However, this expenditure was supplemented by £8.7 million of revenue funding on various aspects of road maintenance, such as winter gritting and pothole repairs.
Less capital funding , though, is allocated to roads this financial year, and even less in 2024-25.
There are also 1,958 structures supporting roads in Carmarthenshire, including 799 bridges and 525 retaining walls – and 6% of bridges are classed as substandard. The report said it would take around 12 years to bring them up to scratch based on current budgets.
The council owns or manages more than 25,000 street lights and although energy costs are lower due to the use of LED bulbs, around 7,000 lighting columns need replacing. The report added that more than 300km of new underground cabling for the lights was needed and that there was no funding for this.
On the plus side, the report said road repairs were being planned more efficiently thanks to updated computer systems, and that more potholes were permanently rather than temporarily repaired on the first visit by highways staff.
The committee will write to cabinet expressing its concerns about the highway network and say that more central Government funding is required.
Cllr Gareth Thomas said: “It’s up to Cardiff (Welsh Government) to fight our corner for us.”
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