There’s a bit of a joke in the Liberal Democrat party that we like pointing at things, particularly potholes. In fact, our current party president, Mark Pack has set up a website www.libdemspointing.co.uk with the subheading “Liberal Democrats in their natural habitat.” So to buck the trend, here’s a photograph of myself and local campaigner Ian Shenton pointing at a pothole on Finchampstead Road near Carnival pool.
I spotted this pothole yesterday (Saturday 1st Feb) when walking up to the sports centre with my kids for a swim, and used the WBC app on my phone to report it. I was surprised that this pothole had not already been reported. Given that we’re in the winter months when potholes are more frequent, I thought it a good idea to remind everyone how to report potholes and the council’s processes.
Wokingham Borough Council, as the highways authority, has a responsibility to maintain all adopted roads that fall under its authority. This means roads that are private or larger roads such as the M4 that passes through the borough, fall outside of its responsibility, but the majority of the roads that we use in the borough, WBC has to maintain.
In April 2019, WBC entered into a new maintenance contract with Volker Highways, the contract having previously been run by Balfour Beatty. As part of the contract, Volker’s will do inspections of the roads in the borough, and will repair defects that they come across as part of their inspections. How frequently these inspections take place varies depending on the kind of road. A major ‘A’ class road would have more frequent inspections (monthly) due to the high level of traffic.
Defects though do appear in between inspections, and can be dealt with if the highways authority is made aware of them. Members of the public can report potholes via the council’s website https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/report-problems/ (click on ‘p’ for pothole, or type in pothole to the search bar) amongst many other things. You can also report on the WBC app on your phone, although appreciate at the moment, the app is a bit clunky. If however, the pothole is urgent, do please call 0118 974 6000 (0800 212 111 if out of hours). Volker’s aims to repair urgent defects within 24 hours and non-urgent within 28 days.
Below is the website version of how to report potholes which I’ve taken you through step by step. The app is similar and as I’ve already mentioned a bit clunky. I have raised this though with the contract owner at WBC as a way of improving the service to residents.
The pothole I highlighted at the beginning of this blog though upon going back today (Sunday 2nd Feb), had become much worse. I therefore had the opportunity to test the ‘reporting an urgent pothole’ function. As it’s the weekend and out of hours, I called the out of hours number (which I could only get by phoning the regular number as the out of hours number is not listed on the website). I have to admit, it wasn’t the best or easiest service to use, and will be feeding this back to the contract owner at our next meeting. I was left on the phone with no one answering and music playing for over 10 minutes without any kind of message to give me confidence that my phone call would be picked up. I nearly gave up! Someone eventually did pick up, but it was quickly apparent that they weren’t local when I said that the pothole was on Finchampstead Road near the town centre, and they didn’t know what part of the country I was in. They also didn’t have access to the online reporting system so I couldn’t give them the reference number from the online report I made yesterday. It’s not too difficult for someone with local knowledge to describe where a pothole is, but if you don’t have local knowledge (people passing through are just as entitled to report defects), it would put you off doing it. Given the highways authority is reliant on members of the public reporting defects in between inspections, the process needs to be as easy to use as possible, and this is an area where I would like to see some improvements.
In my own experience I found that before the new Volker contract came into play, there were some issues with the quality of repairs, and as such, many potholes are reappearing after a short period of time. I also felt that there were some teething problems with the new contract. There was a pothole that I reported before the new contract that didn’t get fixed, and I re-reported it twice more at the beginning of the new contract, to ultimately have to take it to the contract owner to get some action. Problems do happen, but on recent reports, I’ve found the service to be much better and the fixes of a far better quality. There was one pothole on the road at the foot of my drive. Not only was it fixed within the timescale, the quality of fix is good, and the team fixing it did knock on my door first to see if I needed to get my car off the drive first.
I would like to point out that elected members of the council do not get any special privileges when it comes to reporting defects like potholes. We also use the method(s) outlined above. Where we do come in useful though is if problems arise with the above system, such as defects not being repaired properly or in a reasonable time, or at all. We can also feedback to the contract owners anything we feel relevant. With regards to quality, Volker’s themselves quality check 10% of the work carried out by their employees. WBC also do spot checks, but will be doing a thorough review of the quality in the coming months as the contract comes up to its first anniversary. I have also requested that the Volker Highways contract comes to the Overview & Scrutiny committee for a thorough review.
And now for something completely different – Lib Dems not pointing at something for a change.