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Cllr Lucy Nethsingha responds to a request for further highways funding

29 March 2023

Cambridgeshire County Council’s leader Cllr Lucy Nethsingha has responded to a request for further highways funding made in an open letter by a district council leader by highlighting, that the business plan agreed by the Council in February this year included a budget of £32.76 million for maintenance of the highways- an increase on the previous administration’s budget allocations.

In her letter, Cllr Nethsingha points to the council needing to overturn a lack of investment in Cambridgeshire’s roads over many years.

You can read her full response here:

Dear Councillor Bailey,

Thank you for your letter of 17th March regarding the condition of our highways here in Cambridgeshire. As a member of Cambridgeshire County Council until 2021 the deterioration of the condition of our road network over the past 10 years will not be unknown to you. 

The business plan agreed by the Council in February this year included a budget of £32.76 million for maintenance of the highways. This is an increase on the previous budget as proposed by preceding Conservative administrations, an increase which was made possible by the choices made over the past two years by the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent administration now running the council. The dire condition of our roads, and their poor management under the previous Conservative administration were a key issue for us, and we are proud to have been able to put more money first into dealing with the catastrophic failure to clear gullies, and now into highway maintenance. 

The Council has also prioritised investment for the creation of a civil engineering apprenticeship programme, part of our long-term approach to increase capacity as well as a cyclic programme of grip cutting to remove standing water on rural roads and is improving lines and road markings in rural areas. Across 2022 and 2023 these additional investments total £2.1m.

The Council as Highway Authority seeks to prioritise highways maintenance country wide as best it can within the resources available. The Highways Maintenance service use road condition information and forecasts to determine where best to target our limited funding for the best long-term benefits to road users across the county. Due to the very tight budget limitations we have to strike a difficult balance between dealing with the immediate challenge of potholes, and preventative maintenance which helps to avoid the longer-term deterioration of the road network. We have a system of inspections to identify and repair safety maintenance requirements. Our 5 year forward Highways Maintenance Capital Maintenance Programme was approved in March by our Highways and Transportation Committee following discussion with County Councillors from all parties.

We are acutely aware of the impact of the recent droughts followed by heavy rain on stretches of road such as Black Bank and Hundred Foot Bank. The nature of the peat soils on which many of our roads sit makes many of our rural roads more vulnerable to extreme weather and is of significant concern to us. In the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in deterioration of these roads and the effect of this on communities.

The impact of climate change on our infrastructure is not yet well understood and is recognised as a major risk for the County Council. It is disappointing that the urgency of the need to reduce our carbon emissions in order to reduce our climate risk is not supported across the political spectrum within the County, with a number of Conservatives having opposed climate initiatives at both County and Combined Authority level in recent months. 

Cambridgeshire County Council is leading discussions on the impact of climate change on our road network along with similarly affected neighbouring authorities and with the Department for Transport. We are seeking technical support and ultimately a sufficient level of funding to address the issues and adequately maintain the network for the future.

In the interim we are continuing to maintain roads for safe use. This is being achieved through localised repairs, safety signing and traffic management, such as speed limits. Road Safety Management plans are being developed and put in place. The higher use roads are our priority due their importance to our local economy and the volume of traffic they carry.

I trust that this response sets out the importance and investment we are placing into this area as a County Council, for all parts of Cambridgeshire.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Lucy Nethsingha

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council

CC: Stephen Moir, Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire County Council