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Surrey Highways – What’s going on. By John Glanfield

posted 30 Mar 2012, 01:23 by Peter Webb


The SCC has given STAG an update of road maintenance operations. They make interesting reading. Guildford’s repairs are included as an example of performance at borough and district level.


  • SCC maintains 2968 miles of road. (A3 & M25 are serviced by the Dept for Transport (DfT)). 
  • 1214 miles (41%) of that total awaited repair in 2011/12.  171 miles were repaired.
  •  2 miles of SCC highway in every 5 need either a waterproofing dressing, or major repair.
  • Surface dressing averages 150 miles per year. A 700-mile backlog remained by March 2012
  • Major maintenance averages 22 miles per year. Backlog by March 2012: over 300-miles.


Road maintenance treatment

at April 2011


   Scheduled          Actual          Gain/Loss  +/-





Major maintenance.

Primarily resurfacing.


Surface dressing.

Tar & stone chips, or micro-asphalting














         + 8


         - 46





County totals







Major maintenance.

Primarily resurfacing.


Surface dressing.

‘Tar & stone chips,’ or micro-asphalting














+ 2.9


- 9.5





Borough totals







On present performance it will take at least six years to wipe out the surface dressing backlog.

The truly dire major maintenance/resurfacing list cannot be cleared for at least 16 years.

Meantime the repair backlog will continue to deteriorate, progressing from ‘surface’ to ‘major’ work.


SCC is now making every effort to raise its game despite harsh road funding constraints. Rigorous new maintenance contracts commenced last April and are certainly superior to the old. More risk will pass from SCC to the contractors, who are also strongly incentivised to get work ‘right first time’ or face financial penalties.


Very regrettably, lead contractor May Gurney (MG) failed to get fully off the ground. They had provided insufficient resources to meet SCC’s surface dressing target of 198 miles. The resulting 46-mile shortfall will be added to their 2012/13 schedule with severe implications if those targets are not achieved. However, MG’s detailed forward planning had earlier been impeded by SCC’s inability to confirm the 2011/12 maintenance programme until days rather than months before its April start. Additionally, a late injection of £1.5m to budget meant that additional plant, labour and materials had to be secured at short notice. There were also problems with MG’s and SCC’s IT systems.

Happily, SCC’s programme for 2012/13 reached MG in good time last December.


 Year 1 difficulties are almost inevitable – though not always excusable - when bedding-in any major contract. So 2012/13 will be a demanding ‘Road Test’ year for performance by all parties.


Note that major maintenance by Messrs Tarmac exceeded schedule by eight miles. This welcome windfall cost some £190K per mile and was doubtless funded by a budget transfer from May Gurney’s uncompleted surfacing schedule. Later, the Cabinet Member for Transport prudently sought Cabinet consent that ‘any local transport schemes not delivered in the 2011/12 programme be carried over to 2012/13 budget.’


Guildford gets a fair slice of the county’s wholly inadequate road maintenance cake, split between 9 boroughs and 2 district authorities. Guildford’s road repair targets relative to its backlogs are proportionally similar to those for the whole network.



£400m is needed to clear the road repair backlog. SCC Highways report 1 March 2012


Annual Repair Budgets (Revenue and Capital). SCC management costs excluded. 



Dept of Transp Grant








1.5m Winter aid



4.2m Winter aid


2012/13 provisional

None expected


2013/14 provisional

None expected



No rising funding curves there after stripping out the grants. Any increase in repair mileage must hinge on contractual innovation, sharper procurement, and SCC management expertise. We look to the Council to allocate more funds and/or gain further central funding for this critical infrastructure – tough calls.



Regional pooling of some services is being forced upon local authorities by logic and circumstance. The ‘South East Seven’ (SE7) group of counties came together in 2009/10: Surrey, Brighton & Hove, West and East Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and Medway councils. Surrey’s head of highways leads SE7 on highways matters. Innovations include:


Road engineering & design. A shared facility has been created.


Discounted volume supply, road materials. Rising oil prices have pushed the price of bitumen to a 25-year high. SE7 has secured favourable pricing for a range of road materials to agreed specification. Bulk buying and storage complications are avoided; members order direct from suppliers.


Pooled recycling of road materials. Common materials specifications are being sought with members before the processing stations serving them are rationalised. Surrey currently processes at its Merrow depot but local planning conditions limit the work.


Joint cross-border roadworks. SCC aims to extend major repairs across county boundaries in coordinated schemes using a single contractor. Each authority pays pro rata for its own repair mileage.


Training. SE7 and their main contractors have initiated a Highways Engineering MSc at Brighton University, said to be the first course designed specifically for local authority highways managers. They will fund 16 places on the masters course which was developed with the university. Last February saw its first intake of students. The course will fill a gap in the market by advancing engineering skills and knowledge in contract management and commissioning as well as on the technical aspects of highways engineering.


These first initiatives are refreshing after years of torpid introspection in local government.



Five north east councils have gone a giant stride further.

Wakefield, Kirklees, Leeds, Bradford and Calderdale Councils are to merge all roadworks under a single structure to carry out maintenance worth £45m per year. The work packages cover labour, plant and materials to carry out carriageway and footway surfacing over the next four years.


And Surrey?

A Highways Select Committee Task Group report in 2009 reviewed the options for the future of SCC’s road maintenance. It favoured ‘a fully outsourced service using private finance investment’. The Group asked that this PFI option be further investigated. However such schemes have since become somewhat discredited after news that numerous government agencies have negligently signed-off PFI deals locking them into ruinously inflated annual service charges for years to come. See footnote and re Hounslow below


Another Highways Task Group is now formulating ‘Project Horizon’ for consideration by the Environment & Transport Select Committee. It marks a strategic shift in the prioritising and delivery of future highways maintenance, recognising that the repair backlog cannot be cleared in the next five years. The Group proposes that today’s single annual ‘one size fits all’ programme is replaced by three new Planned Maintenance Programmes (below). They would run-on for four or five years, starting April 2013.


This extended planning horizon avoids the tight annual timescale for prioritisation, scheme design, scheduling co-ordination with utilities and other roadworks, then getting the job done before year-end in April. The added flexibility would also enable repairs to be bundled with other road maintenance services in more cost-effective programming. The perilous consequences of bottleneck delays would ease. Importantly, Project Horizon would bring renegotiation of prices with contractors and suppliers based on longer-term commitments. A 10- 15% reduction of existing contract prices is anticipated.


The Core Maintenance Programme managed by SCC Highways on a fixed 5-year budget would provide planned capital maintenance for roads, footways, bridges, drainage and safety barriers. It would apply a revised priority policy based primarily on best UK asset management principles. The report records present confusion about the role played by council members in the planning and prioritisation process. They can nominate three maintenance schemes per year. The priority weighting given to their requests is not functioning well and will not continue in its present form.


The Local Maintenance Programme would be managed by the Local Area Committees and run on a 4-year cycle in line with the Council’s term. The Committees would be funded to enable them at their discretion to repair and improve those of their roads that have not been prioritised in the Core Maintenance Programme. Annual allocation of £2m is recommended, for division between the eleven area committees. (Averaging £182K each, this would pay for eight or nine miles of surface dressing or nearly one mile of resurfacing).


Committees can also tap into the Revenue Local Access Programme for additional funding to support local road maintenance. The 2011/12 RLA Programme averaged £100K per committee.


The Carriageway Protection Programme, managed by SCC Highways on a fixed 5-year budget, would concentrate on preventing roads from further deterioration and more costly later repair. It would schedule appropriate treatment on a set management cycle, e.g. a newly resurfaced highway would be logged for dressing every seven years to prevent water penetration, frost ‘heave’ and surface breakup.


Meantime Hounslow’s highways are going PFI.

A Vinci/Ringway (remember Ringway?) joint venture is the preferred bidder for the London Borough of Hounslow’s £800m 25-year PFI highways maintenance contract. The deal is subject to DfT approval and will give ‘a massive makeover’ to the borough’s 259 miles of road and 458 miles of pavement. Over the first five years of the contract Vinci Ringway will invest £100m to upgrade the road network. It will then be maintained to the improved standard for the rest of the contract.



John Glanfield

STAG member for highways



The STAG says that residents need to know that project and contract decisions will be taken only after a proper business evaluation of any major venture such as this; not a strong point yet with civil servants nation-wide. They should also be told what options are there as to method, and the respective consequences of each one now, and down the line. In Surrey's case this can feature in the Annual Report and is one of the reasons for having one.