Council alarmed by impact of Transport NI budget cuts on local service provision

Published: 12th June 2015

Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have expressed their shock and dismay following a meeting with Transport NI where officials outlined how a £30 million cut to its budget will affect local services.

Following a request from the Council, Transport NI representatives attended Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s Special Environmental Services Committee meeting on 27 May 2015 to brief Council Members regarding the changes to local service provision following significant cuts to the Transport NI budget.

Mr Conor Loughery, Divisional Manager, Western Division and Mr Des McFarlane, Network Development Manager, Western Division, attended the Council committee meeting on behalf of Transport NI where they advised that the current Transport NI allocated resource budget is £12.8 million, approximately £30 million less than in previous years.

To illustrate the scale of the budget deficit Mr Loughery explained that the current Transport NI commitments for traffic signal energy and street lighting inspection costs exceeded the existing £12.8 million total budget alone and therefore no further budget is available for other resource activities such as grass cutting; gully emptying; winter maintenance; weed spraying; and white line renewal.

Mr Loughery went on to explain that the Department for Regional Development Minister, Mr Danny Kennedy MLA, has authorised Transport NI’s in-house contractor to provide skeletal service with regard to grass cutting, gully emptying, weed spraying, and white line renewal. The cost of this however will further exceed the Transport NI current budget and the agency will need to bid for at least £10 million additional funding in the next monitoring round to fund this basic service.

The skeletal service, proposed by Transport NI, is as follows:

Pot holes
Pot hole repairs will be restricted to the most dangerous pot holes on roads with a traffic volume of at least 500 vehicles per day. Pot holes must be more than 20mm in depth. Rural roads carrying less than 500 vehicles per day will not have pot holes repaired unless the pot hole is considered an emergency repair situation where major road safety is a concern.

Grass cutting
Historically Transport NI cut grass two times per year in rural areas and up to five times per year in urban areas. Under the skeletal service, grass will be cut only once a year, between April and September. Subject to available resources, visibility splays at traffic junctions will be cut more frequently in the interest of safety.

Gully emptying
Gullies will only be emptied at known ‘hot spots’ and in emergency situations where property is at risk.

Weed spraying
No weed spraying will be carried out with the exception of weeds that Transport NI has a statutory duty to treat, for example Japanese Knotweed.

Street lighting
No repairs to street lights will be carried out by external contractors. The extent of the repair will be subject to the availability of internal contractors.

White lines
Only limited emergency works to white lines on roads will be carried out. These works are generally in relation to stop lines.

Council Members expressed their shock and extreme dissatisfaction as the full scale of the impact to local services became apparent and agreed that Transport NI’s current budget deficit needs to be addressed urgently in advance of the winter season.

Responding to the information presented by Transport NI, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Members raised a number of points:

  • Members voiced their concern that district ratepayers expect a better level of service than those outlined by Transport NI, as they pay for these services through their rates, road tax and other taxes.
  • Members expressed their grave concern regarding restricting pot hole repairs to roads with more than 500 vehicles per day, stating that this will create an equality issue, especially for those who live or travel in rural parts of the Fermanagh and Omagh district.
  • The cost of compensation claims, arising from untreated pot holes, could easily exceed the cost of pot hole repairs. Members asked whether a member of the public could repair a pot hole in the interest of road safety. Subsequent to the meeting, Mr Loughery informed the Council this could be done however the individual or group carrying out the repair work needs to be mindful of public liability and health and safety requirements.
  • Concern regarding the withdrawal of grass cutting, street lighting repairs, gully emptying, weed spraying and winter maintenance.
  • The importance of providing appropriate visibility splays at traffic junctions and grass cutting at such junctions should be prioritised.
  • The need to address the risk presented by overhanging branches along roads. Transport NI advised this is the responsibility of adjoining landowners.
  • The need for appropriate road maintenance on minor roads that are bus routes. Members enquired whether a criteria weighting was applied to minor routes, with less than 500 vehicles per day, that are bus routes.
  • The problem of road flooding due to blocked gullies.
  • The need to adequately maintain cats eyes where located.
  • Water flowing from private property onto the road. Transport NI advised this is a matter for the landowners concerned.
  • The inability of Transport NI to facilitate evening meetings due to budget constraints, therefore making it unable to liaise effectively with community and voluntary groups.

The Council has committed to write to the Regional Development Minister, Mr Danny Kennedy MLA, to express the Council’s concern at the reduced resource funding allocated for Transport NI maintenance functions and restricting pot hole repairs to roads with more than 500 vehicles per day. The correspondence will outline concerns regarding the implications this will have for those who live, work and visit the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council area and make clear that the current situation presented by Transport NI is unacceptable, particularly as it has an adverse equality impact on those who live and travel in rural areas in the district. If the Council does not receive a substantive response from the Minister, it was agreed that an urgent meeting with the Minister will be requested.

Council Members also took the opportunity to raise a number of strategic infrastructure issues with Transport NI with particular reference to the A5, A32 and proposed Strathroy Link Road in Omagh.

Mr. Loughery confirmed that Transport NI expects to be in a position to publish Draft Orders with regard to the A5 shortly and the matter could then proceed to the Northern Ireland Executive for consideration.

Members referenced the need to upgrade the A32 to facilitate transport links between the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen and the Tyrone County Hospital, Omagh. Mr Loughery advised that an A32 repair programme was in place and whilst some work had already been carried out, further preparatory work had been undertaken. Once funding becomes available, the scheme could be followed through.

Regarding the proposed Strathroy Link Road project, Members advised consideration should be given to including a roundabout at the Strathroy Road junction. Transport NI agreed to investigate this proposal further.

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