Saturday, 7 April 2012

Minor Highway Improvements: Moving The Goalposts?

The following email has started to go out to Parish Councils (and any others who have put bids in for Highways Improvements I imagine) in South Cambridgeshire;

"As a result of the high number of applications received for Minor Highway Improvements the Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, in discussion with officers, has decided that to keep the panel meetings manageable it will be necessary to reduce the number of bids considered at the meeting. 

In order to reduce the bids, prior consideration will be given to : 

  • Whether the bidder has confirmed a contribution of at least 10%
  • Affordability within budget constraints
  • The viability of the bid in terms of: delivery within the programme year, land ownership issues, need for legal agreements, The bidder's highest priority bid if submitting multiple bids (if more than 20 bids have been received), and Whether the bidder has confirmed their acceptance of any ongoing operational costs e.g. power supply costs. 

If this fails to reduce the number of bids to around 20, the remaining bids will be ranked based on the following categories: 

  • Economic Development: the contribution the scheme makes to improving economic growth in Cambridgeshire, for example to help growth areas, strategic employment sites and main commuter routes.  It can also cover the growth potential of regeneration if it contributes to jobs. The degree of improvement is a factor that should be taken into account when scoring this category, as well as the importance of the road. 
  • Persistent Problems:  the contribution the scheme makes to removing or future-proofing the Council against significant costs, such as roads that incur regular maintenance costs that could be reduced overall by a more lasting investment. 
  • Road Safety:  the contribution the scheme makes to improving road safety or linking to accident reduction measures. 
  • Community Impact:  the contribution a scheme makes to reducing the impact of the current road condition on residential areas, e.g. reducing noise and vibration caused by HCVs on poor surfaces, reducing flooding and flood risk, improving accessibility etc. 

Officers will recommend to panel members a list of bids for consideration at the panel meeting.  If this informal process fails to reach any agreement the panel will be asked to consider all the bids that have passed the above checks.   This may require more than one meeting of the panel to complete the process.   

The bidders who fail to proceed to the panel stage will be informed of the outcome of this initial vetting process and invited to resubmit their bids for consideration for the 2013/14 programme. 

We are currently undertaking the first assessment of bids for South Cambridgeshire. Those that pass this filtering process will be considered at the panel meeting on morning of the 25th April. 

It is expected that the initial assessment will completed in the next two weeks and you will be advised on 16th-17th April if your bid will proceed to the panel stage, where you will be invited to attend to present your application.  

Yours sincerely 
Brian Stinton 
Area Manger Traffic City & South"

First of all I am not aware of exactly what the situation is here in Bar Hill; I was not involved in any bid submissions when they were originally made.

On a general point though it is incredibly unfair that after some parishes were told that "it didn't matter what was on the bid so long as it went in" the County Council is now, retrospectively, going to start applying some brand new criteria in order to "weed out" bids.

When Councillor Clarke, the Conservative leader of the County Council, set-up these new groups he said that this was a way of giving power back to elected Councillors - now it seems that Officers will be having the power to decide what comes before those locally elected Councillors. The problem is this gives elected Councillors an "out".

How many times, when you talk about highways improvements, do you hear "there's no money"? The whole point of this new structure was to change this to "your elected representatives have decided your request isn't high enough of a priority". Make the elected Councillor *responsible* for the work that's done and the decisions that are made rather than having the decisions made by an un-elected Officer.

This to me is a massive failure of this new initiative, Cllr Clarke has claimed on many occasions that under his leadership the organisation is being transformed into being Councillor-led. This would have been a very visible sign of his intention to see this through and it's disappointing that he seems to have backed down at this early stage.

I have raised a FOI request for the full list of Highways Improvements.