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Peat soil affected road plans to be considered

18 January 2024

A plan to tackle peat soil affected roads, focusing on safety, will be considered by members of the Highways and Transport Committee on Tuesday (23 January).

In October 2023, members unanimously supported a motion concerning peat roads across parts of rural Cambridgeshire, and for the Highways and Transport Committee to publish a plan following consultation with parish councils. These roads have been particularly vulnerable to the extended periods of hot, cold, and wet weather we have seen recently as the peat soils expand and contract leading to cracking and bending in the road surface. This is an issue not only being faced in Cambridgeshire but other parts of the country where roads have been built on similar soils.

The report to be considered by committee on 23 January provides a short, medium and long-term plan. This includes emergency repair work, lowering speed limits or imposing weight limits, identifying the worse sections of roads, and estimating the investment needed for this essential work.

Each year, as part of the Highways Maintenance budget, repairs have been carried out on peat soil affected roads. With the country experiencing continued extreme weather, there are a significant and increasing number of roads affected, a total of 156 roads have been identified. Currently, repair work has included edge treatment, recycling the road material and relaying, the use of grids to provide structure and grip fibre. Some roads have required lower speed limits, safety signage, traffic lights, temporary road closures and weight restrictions. The traditional methods of repairing roads are not providing a long-term maintenance free solution to these roads.

Highway officers will continue to assess routes and make the necessary repairs in the short-term, but the committee will also hear about medium-term investment which could see engineering assessment work for all routes, starting initially on 25 of the most used roads. Safety is obviously the most important factor and so safety assessments will be undertaken across all roads. Furthermore, the longer-term plan is to secure the extra investment desperately needed to tackle peat affected roads. The council therefore plans to lobby key funders and stakeholders and continue working with the Department for Transport to raise awareness of this national issue.

Cllr Alex Beckett, chair of the Highways and Transport Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Climate change and extreme weather is taking a huge toll on our peat soil affected roads. We will continue to do what we can locally to maintain and keep these roads safe, however we need to be aware this is a national issue, and we need support from our local MPs and government to tackle this issue properly.”

Cllr Neil Shailer, vice-chair of the Highways and Transport Committee at Cambridgeshire County Council, added: “In the past, we have spent millions of pounds repairing these roads. However, we are seeing that the roads are deteriorating a lot quicker than we would have expected, many only lasting five years at the most. In collaboration with other counties, we are looking for more lasting solutions.”

The committee papers can be found on our website and the meeting will be live streamed on the council’s YouTube channel.