Wednesday 16 December 2015

Barnet Council repaving project - Praise where praise is due


Like many streets in Barnet, my street has had its pavement relaid. The cost of this has been reported as £50 million.A couple of months ago, we received a communication from Barnet Council detailing the schedule for our road. We'd have 18 weeks of disruption and there would be extended periods where street parking outside our house would be suspended. There would also be periods of limited accessibility. This was how the pavement looked before the works.
Toilet and all

Once the work started, it was clear just how much disruption this would entail. My house is one of only two in our street without a carport. As you can see from the adjacent picture, it was not only on street parking that was affected. In fact cars couldn't get in or out of driveways for a period. For those with limited access or requiring wheelchairs (several of my neighbours are in this position) there were a couple of days when they were effectively trapped.

Some of our neighbours also had the pleasure of public toilets for the workmen outside their front doors. We also had the joy of numerous early morning deliveries. The one shown was at 07:30, despite the council telling us that the earliest deliveries would be at 8am. Although this was disturbing and rather annoying, it did at least cause less disruption than some of the later deliveries when the road was busier. We have a busy nursery in our road and we've had gridlock on a couple of occasions.

Anyway our side of the road has been done.The contractors have done a fine job. Many of my neighbours (who I have found out are avid readers of the blog) have been highly impressed by the new surface. It is very smooth. Previously, the large paving slabs outside of peoples homes with carports were heavily cracked and quite a few had potential trip hazards, these have been replaced with small bricks, less likely to break. Clearly £50 million is a huge sum to spend. Some people have suggested to me that at this time, this is the wrong way to spend this.

Of course, there will be a thousand things that have been cut that this £50 million could be quite sensibly spent to maintain but I had a chat with one of our Conservative Councillors who explained the way the finances of this worked. I have to agree with him that in this case, the decision was a sensible and sound one. He suggested that it may be helpful to explain this.

This is an infrastructure project. Many of the pavements in Barnet have been negected for years. The council has to field compensation claims from people who have accidents and injure themselves and have a duty of care to ensure that any potential hazard is fixed. If a hazard is known by the council and a person injures themselves, the claim has an aggrevating factor as it becomes preventable and the council can be deemed negligent. Fixing pavements on an ad hoc/piecemeal way is expensive and inefficient. At present, interest rates are low and local authorities can borrow money at very reasonable rates for infrastructure projects using long term loans. The costs of servicing such loans is more than met by the savings from not having to do piecemeal patch ups.

All in all, it is a win/win. We have a safer, smoother pavement. Fewer people trip over and hurt themeselves, the council spends less on maintenance, meaning that the the debt is easily serviceable. I am a fan of infrastructure projects such as this which have a sound business case. I have no issue with public sector debt, when it is used for projects that improve our environment.

There are a few minor gripes, the parking restrictions seem to be a bit OTT. Whilst it is clear that contractors need access to where they are working, at times it seems that half the street is cordoned off, when there is little need or justification. It would also have been better if the council had informed residents of exactly when they'd have no/restricted to their house. Saying "work will go on over an 18 week period" is not exactly helpful.

Finally a quick word to compliment the contractors on their good humour and manners. Despite the huge disruption, they have done a fine job.

1 comment:

MillHillian said...

Sorry Roger but I disagree with spending £50 million quid on the vandalising our footpaths by ripping up original granite chipped paving slabs to be replaced with bland concrete slabs, bricks and tarmac. As can be seen where this has already been done in The Reddings, the character of the area is being ruined and the new surface is soon damaged again.

Most of the damage is caused by inconsiderate builders & home owners who wantonly destroy the original surface when their new mega-extension is being constructed and then fail to replace or repair it when their work has been completed.

There is now also a total failure on the part of the council to enforce any sort of actin on these reckless builders / owners, which encourages others to follow suite.

The council used to hold a retainer from developers to pay for remedial work and there used to be Street Enforcement officers who would monitor developers and arrange for damage to be rectified….But these have been cut now.

If you report damage when it happens on the council’s web site, there is such a delay in response that they then argue that it is too late to action anyone

In response to a longstanding issue where 17 paving slabs were broken while works were being carried out to one house in my road, I finally received the following from our local councillor

“Dear Cllr Xxxxxx,

I am writing in response to your longstanding concerns about the damage done to our pavements by builders and developers. This is a widespread concern and something that Cllr Dean Cohen and the leader have asked us to look at. Where we have hard evidence, we do seek to get builders to repair, or to fund the repairs of pavements. However, getting the evidence that a specific builder caused a specific bit of damage is not as easy as it may seem. While it may appear obvious to you and I, if a builder chooses to dispute the facts, it is very hard to prove unless you have photos of them actually causing the damage. The moment we end up in court, we risk the legal costs being greater than the cost of the actual repair as well as risk not being able to reclaim the considerable cost that may result from taking these cases through the legal process.

However, we have not given-up and it is a wide-spread problem across the country. The most promising solution we are investing is the greater use of bonds attached to planning application, so we retain a sum of money. Officers are currently exploring this option.

As I said above, we do take action where we can, although we have limited capacity for enforcement activities (these were considerably reduced as part of budget cuts several years ago before the service was outsourced to Re). However, we are reviewing how we can provide a more cost effective enforcement function by combining the resources across several services (e.g. highways, planning, building control, and environmental health).

We do appreciate that it is frustrating when residents see builders causing damage to pavements in this way and it’s hard to explain why we simply can’t just step in and fine them. People tend to imagine we have much greater powers than we actually do. If we had photographic evidence of a builder actually causing the damage we could present that to them and hope that would be enough for them to pay-up without further action. If they refuse, we then have to decide if it’s worth taking legal action.

In conclusion, in seeking to move this forward, we are doing two things:-

1. Investigating the possibility of greater use of bonds attached to planning applications;
2. Increasing our capacity for enforcement by combining the resources across a number of services.

I’m sorry for the delay in a comprehensive response to your earlier enquiry.”

Seems for the future measures have been put in place but for xxx regrettably they seem to have got away with it.

Kind Regards
Cllr Xxxxxx