Announced at 8 am today (Thursday), it is a dramatic 11th hour intervention by the Independent Alliance, which is made up primarily of Ashfield Independent councillors, at Nottinghamshire County Council, the authority responsible for highway maintenance.
On the day the Conservative-controlled council is seeking formal approval for its 2022/23 budget at a special meeting, the Independents are to propose two amendments.
The first is that there should be no increase in the county council element of council tax – because residents “are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis”.
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But the second focuses on the “dangerous” state of the county’s roads, which are plagued by potholes and a massive backlog of repairs.
The ruling Conservative group’s budget is pledging to spend an extra £15 million, from earmarked reserves, on road repairs and to improve the way they are carried out.
However, the Independents are proposing to splash out a further £15 million of money diverted from the controversial Top Wighay Farm development scheme in Hucknall.
This amount has been allocated for the building of new council offices at Top Wighay. But the Independents say that, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, council employees are “unlikely to ever return to full-time office working”, so the cash can be spent on “the backlog of highway maintenance” instead.
It would equate to an extra £2 million-plus for each of the county’s seven boroughs and districts, including Mansfield and Ashfield.
Coun Jason Zadrozny, leader of the Independent Alliance at County Hall and of Ashfield District Council, said: “The state of our highways is disgraceful. But we have a clear plan to fix our broken roads and pavements, and finally get to grips with the problem.
"The Conservatives are either serious about turbo-charging the highways maintenance programme, or they’re not. We’ll find out today.”
The Independent Alliance occupies 13 of the 66 seats on the county council. The amendment, which is being proposed by Coun Lee Waters, is expected to be put to the vote at about 7 pm after the all-day budget meeting.
Coun Waters said: “The disgraceful, dangerous state of our highways, and the way we fix them, is the biggest reputational risk of this council.
"The Tories face a clear choice: reduce our council tax rise while fixing our broken roads, or build an office block we say the council doesn’t need.”
The county council’s ruling Conservative group launched a full review of potholes last year, with the help of independent consultants.
As well as upping its spending on the problem, it decided to adopt a ‘right first time’ approach to repairs, delivering long-term, permanent work, rather than short-term fixes. The Tories also decided to double the number of the council's designated ‘patching’ teams to eight.
Earlier this month, Holbeck Way In Rainworth became one of the first areas in the county to benefit from the new approach.
Coun Neil Clarke, Conservative chair of the transport and environment committee, said: “There will be a change of emphasis. Rather than filling in little potholes, we will repair large patches.
"We will also be able to give residents more certainty on exactly when their road will be repaired.
"Our extra £15 million will go a long way towards helping, but we cannot wave a magic wand.
"We still need more money and help, and I hope the government will be persuaded to increase investment in roads.”
Figures show that 476,000 potholes have been repaired by the county council over the past five years.
But thousands more are waiting to be fixed, with the latest complaints coming from residents of High Pavement, Hamilton Road and Priestsic Road in Sutton. One man, Barrie Heathfield, 81, said High Pavement had never been so bad.
Another resident, Dale Burton, 54, said: “It’s just not safe trying to dodge the potholes all the time. I know it’s only a 30mph road, but some drivers treat it as if it’s the motorway and if you hit one of those holes, you could lose control.”
On Facebook, Tony Evans warned that four cars had suffered damaged wheels or burst tyres on Hamilton Road in one night. Hazel Oscoft said Priestsic Road was deteriorating rapidly, while Danny Dennis described the whole problem as “a joke”.
Coun Clarke said High Pavement was “an example of the kind of road which will benefit from our investment”.
The county council’s current policy promises that when potholes are reported, they will be inspected within ten working days.
To be considered unsafe, holes on roads must be at least 40mm deep and on pavements, at least 20mm deep.
Once inspected, they are prioritised into four categories to determine when they will be repaired.
The aim is for the worst to be fixed by the end of the next working day, while those in the lowest category will be repaired within 90 days.