Devon County Council considers enlisting volunteer pothole-fixers

'Road wardens' would be trained to carry out minor road repairs as council struggles to save money...

Live in Devon and fancy fixing potholes in your spare time? Cash-strapped Devon County Council is considering enlisting 'road wardens' to repair potholes in their spare time, but the idea has been described as "absurd" by the RAC.

The council says it wants to save  £3.4m by next year, according to Austin Macauley of localgov.co.uk

Road wardens would operate like the county's existing volunteer snow wardens who help keep roads clear. They would fix small potholes, carry out other minor repairs and look after roadside weeding and cleaning road signs.

The idea is only at discussion stage at the moment. The council says it is liaising with town and parish councils about rolling out the wardens, who would be trained by the council.

Roger Geffen of cycling charity CTC is sceptical about the idea, though we suggested that bands of cyclists patching their local roads could at least ensure their favourite routes gott fixed, and had a big incentive to do a good job.

He thinks the idea of patching roads instead of fixing them properly is the underlying flaw in the idea.

Geffen said: "Even now, with paid staff doing the work, an awful lot of patch-repairing is done poorly, and falls apart pretty rapidly.

"Local authorities really do need to badger Government for the funding that would enable them to shift from reactive pothole-filling towards properly planned road maintenance – in other words, carrying out full surface repairs before the road’s subsurface starts falling apart, rather than patching it up afterwards."

Geffen says that both the Audit Commission and the Government have recognised that preventive repairs are far more cost-effective than reactive patching.

Lack of funding is stopping local authorities from switching from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ maintenance because of the backlog of repairs, and cyclists suffer more than motorised road users as a result.

As well as saving money in the long run, Geffen says there's another benefit to proper road repairs.

"Whenever New York’s Department of Transport plans to resurface a road, they ask themselves: 'Could this road be redesigned to be more cycle friendly while we’re at it?' By systematically linking their cycling infrastructure and planned road maintenance programmes, they have delivered some fantastic cycle facilities, in a very cost-effective manner.

"Plymouth Council has taken up the idea too, so Devon Council could easily take a leaf out of their book. CTC is strongly urging other local authorities to adopt this approach as well, and for the Government to recommend it in the forthcoming Cycling and Walking Delivery Plan."

Potholes continue to be a major source of injuries and equipment damage for cyclists.

Geffen added: "Around 12% of the injury damages claims pursued by CTC’s solicitors on behalf of our members are due to maintenance defects. Imagine the outcry if the same were true for drivers."

The council also proposes to save £183,000 by reducing snow clearing and not restocking or maintaining grit bins and to save a further £700,000 by only funding grass cutting to maintain visibility at junctions and the inside of bends.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council cabinet member for highway management and flood prevention, said: “The County Council’s reduced budgets means that every service area of the Council is affected, including highways. By 2016/17 we will have 60% less funding for highway maintenance and traffic management than in 2009/10, which presents a big challenge for the service and will mean a huge change from what has previously been delivered."

RAC spokesman Simon Williams told localgov.co.uk: "Getting potholes fixed is without doubt a top priority, but getting people to do it themselves is perhaps just a bit too enterprising. Councils have been given extra money by the Government to repair our roads so we would hope they would able to get fully trained workers to do a professional job rather than training volunteers."

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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