Slashed budgets impact on Derry road repairs

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Major funding cuts are biting into resources to deal with road defects in the Derry area, government officials have confirmed.

Lack of funding has also resulted in only main roads or those with major defects being repaired, while routine inspections of broken street lights were withdrawn last year.

The last street light inspection locally was conducted back in April 2015 “before the night scouting contract was cancelled due to lack of funds,” a DRD spokesman said.

In terms of lights, the spokesman told the ‘Journal’ the government now “depends on members of the public, public representatives and the PSNI making us aware of outages.”

The DRD has responsibility for 29,985 street lights across Derry and Strabane. Last year there were a total of 4,000 damaged or defective street lights reported - around one in eight across the entire network.

From April 1st, 2016 there have been another 291 reports of broken lights, with over 90 per cent of these now fixed.

The DRD said they could not put a figure on how many lights are out at the minute “as there is no night-time scouting inspections currently.”

Speaking about response times between reports of outages, inspections and repairs, a DRD spokesman said: “Approximately 90–95 per cent of our reported outages go straight to the contractor for repair. Only column knockdowns, doors off and group outages may be firstly inspected by ourselves before being passed on, if necessary to do so.

“Repairs are prioritised by firstly dealing with any structural or electrical hazard, followed by any group outages then groups burning and finally individual outages and daily burners on an area basis.

“Currently every effort is being made to complete repairs to defective street lights. Outages are being passed to the contractor on a daily basis, follow up repairs are carried our fairly swiftly thereafter by the local contractor, certainly within a 10 day window.”

Additionally, broken lights are now being replaced with more energy-efficent and maintenance-free LED lights, which last up to 20 years, compared to the average four-five year cycle of traditional bulbs.

Meanwhile DRD/ Transport NI is responsible for 1,454 miles of roads across Derry and Strabane. In terms of potholes and other road defects, only the roads with the heaviest traffic or the most serious surface faults are being given priority, due to a “significant shortfall in mantenance budget” for the year ahead.

The ‘Journal’ has learned that following the heavy rains of the past several months, 328 defects and potholes have been identified across the Derry and Strabane road network during the two weeks from April 1 to 16, 2016, most of which are in the process of being repaired.

Prior to this, during the year to April 2016, there were 1,079 potholes and other defects reported by phone or via the DRD website, to add to the 11,695 defects identified during official inspections.

Of these, the DRD said, “6,266 were completed, 3,956 were not done (archived) due to this imposition of the Skeleton Service and 46 are awaiting completion.”

On average it takes around nine days from when a defect is reported for an inspection to be carried out, and another 15 days for repair.

A system is currently in place to ensure roadworks and repairs locally cause as little disruption as possible to road users and pedestrians, including restrictions on works during conducted during peak times in the busiest areas.

For the coming year, the DRD has confirmed that the money is just not there to repair all the defects identified.

The spokesman said: “During 2016/17 the Department is facing a significant shortfall in its maintenance budget.

“Consequently a reduced level of service commensurate with the available budget has been implemented.

“Only the highest priority defects will be repaired.

“As a result of the Northern Ireland Civil Service-wide Voluntary Exit Scheme the number of road inspectors in the Derry and Strabane District Council area has been reduced from seven to five.”

As well as road repairs and lighting, maintenance funding pressures have also impacted on the frequency of grass cutting on road sides and gully cleaning, as well as winter services.

The Department needs in the region of £48m to maintain services at its previous level prior to the cuts, but only has around half of this for the whole of Northern Ireland for the year ahead.

DRD officials said that local people have a crucial role to play in helping identify and report broken or defective infrastructure. Members of the public can report street light outages and road defects by telephoning 0300 200 7899 or online at: www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/report-street-light-fault.

The Department for Regional Development will cease to exist shortly and its responsibilities are to be transfer to a new, larger Department of Infrastructure. The changes form part of the ‘Fresh Start’ agreement, which involves restructuring government departments, and reducing them from 12 to nine.