Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Poor Standard of Leeds Highways Roadworks 2014

I've uploaded this video because I am sick to death of the shoddy work carried out by Leeds Highways Department.  

This is the full text of what I wrote to go with the video I uploaded to YouTube, but was too long for it all to be included.  There is a lot more I would like to say and this is only the beginning as I am most unhappy with the poor standard of surveying and engineering execution carried out by Leeds Highways.

This video is of a corner at the end of the street where I live, but it could probably be any number of places in Leeds, or elsewhere in the UK.

This corner had been all broken down and in need of work for several years, so after I had mentioned it to my local Councillors and the people in Highways it was eventually done (probably no connection) in late 2012.

I was very disappointed to see that the level of the drain had been raised by two inches or more so that the rainwater in the gutter would flow away from it, and on either side, huge puddles developed.  I drew this to the attention of my local Councillors again, as well as the Highways people.  I had apologies for the standard of work from the Councillors (not their fault) but heard nothing from Highways.  In the early summer of 2013 a new drain was sunk in the gutter on the far side of the black and white posts you can see in the video only a few feet from the existing drain, relieving that sink, but not the side shown here.  The level issue, the primary cause, was not addressed.

Late in 2013 a third set of works were carried out here when the entire area of the bus 'circus' ~ the wide area with laybys for buses to turn round ~ up to the crossroad junction was resurfaced, including the drain by the black and white post again.

For anyone who gives a fig about standards of road building or accountability for public works, this is not an acceptable way to carry out these kind of works.

The supervising engineers for works such as this should properly survey the levels and plan for the camber to drain towards gutters which then feed into drains.  All this requires careful attention to the use of spirit levels and surveying equipment.  Not seriously difficult, but something which just takes proper attention to the detail required.  Judging by this work done here, no-one properly attended to the levels involved.

This is absolutely basic stuff.  You may say, Does it really matter?  Well this is money not being well spent, and physical infrastructure being built to a lower standard of function and durability than could be attained with exactly the tools and equipment if the supervising engineer did what he should.  In other words, the people who are doing these jobs are cutting corners, not paying attention to details that the Romans knew about when they built their roads two thousand years ago, and not producing work up to the the industry standard.

And what is worse, the supervisors and bigwigs of the Highways Department don't even check the work to see if the standards are being adhered to. 

A few yards further along from where I videoed this, in the bus layby, a drain had its 60 year old drain cover replaced with a modern one (which is far less aesthetically designed) and yet the drain itself is still blocked and another long puddle stretches along where the bus pulls up for the passengers to get on.  (They rebuilt the drain cover, but didn't clean it out, like putting new wall paper over old without any preparation at all.)  My neighbout actually mentioned this to me, so I am not a lonely anorak complaining in the dark.  I rarely use that particular stop for boarding, only alighting, so I hadn't noticed that the bus sprays the waiting passengers from the long puddle by the kerb with the blocked drain when it pulls up.

These new drain, 'gully grates' I believe they are called, do not appear to have hinges on them so far as I can tell, so they cannot be lifted for drain cleaning like the old ones which did have hinges.    Whatever the case, this drain is totally blocked and should have been dealt with when the road was resurfaced.

This is work that was done in about November of 2013, so it is extremely recent.  And a few yards further along from that, at the pedestrian crossing, the dropped curb has another one of these long puddles that settles along it just like the others I have already drawn attention to because of badly aligned levels, and so pedestrians are forced to walk through or step over these puddles when there has been rain (and we've had a lot this winter).

These kind of poor standards are endemic in the road works that Leeds Highways Department are responsible for, and they are wasting our money while giving us poor quality service.

The latest thing I have noticed is that perfectly sound cast iron drain covers which have a certain aestetic and a patina of age which you simply couldn't buy, have started to be replaced with modern steel gratings which are harsh and jagged in appearance compared to the more attractive traditional designs which have lain in our streets for, in some cases, over a century.  The drain covers which have been changed in this end section of Queenswood Drive had been there for over 60 years and were in sound condition, just like all those along our road, every thirty yards or so.  It is not just the traditional appearance which is important here, but the cost or replacing perfectly sound street furniture with new stuff that must be costing the city a great deal of money.  If a new steel drain cover cost £20, (I believe it could be more) and there are about 120 drain grilles per mile, then the costs of replacement would be £2,400 per mile or more.  This is a guesstimate, but food for thought nonetheless.

Council officials have given me absurd excuses as to why this is being done, such as ~ people steal the old cast iron ones.  I ask people all the time if they have ever seen a missing cast iron drain cover, and never has anyone answered positively to that, so I have to question this claim that many go missing.  I am in the process of being about to enter an FOI request as to how many of these have been stolen in the last five years and await the response.

And the idea of removing them all so that they can't be stolen is, I have to say, perverse... I mean ~ how many have been stolen, and how much did that cost, compared to the automatic removal of probably thousands already and the cost of replacing them with these new ones?  I don't know the figures yet, but it comes down to the cost of putting in new ones against retaining perfectly sound ones and only paying for the (somewhat mythical I suspect) grates which are claimed to go missing. 

There is no need to replace these cast iron grates.  There are examples around Headingley and Leeds which are over a hundred years old, and they are barely distinguishable from those that are 60 years old.  In other words, these things have a usable life of well over a century and almost never go wrong or break, and yet Highways have been stripping them out and replacing them for the last year and a half or so with little or no public consultation, it just happens and then it's a fait accompli.

At a time of unprecedented cutbacks in public expenditure, this department is spending money on unnecessary replacement of perfectly sound and aesthetic street furniture.  This is just ludicrous and one has to ask who is getting the contracts for the replacements?

Then they say that the old ones are curved so they are dangerous.  By no means all are curved, a good proportion are actually flat, but those that are curved were made that way so that water more easily flows into them, and they have been an accepted standard design across the whole of Britain since at least the late nineteenth century.  There are places in old Woodhouse and Headingley Hill where examples of these which are from the 1880s are still in place and in one piece.  To attempt to expunge this historic design of street furniture from our cities and towns on the basis of some trumped up health and safety excuse is absurd.  How much would it cost to replace the at least millions, probably tens of millions, and possibly hundreds of millions of these cast iron grilles throughout Yorkshire and the rest of the UK?  It reminds one of Pol Pot's attempt at creating a Year Zero, seeking to entirely wipe out the past.  When one pays it a little attention it not only appears to be a completely bizarre and inappropriate obsession with deleting and overwriting the past, but one has to question where such a motivation comes from when there are so many other more important things for the Council's various departments to be putting their limited resources to.

At the very least the Highways Department is out of touch with the reality of the present time and needs to be reined in from profligate spending and made to concentrate on the engineering standards of its works which are erratic at best.

At worst one is led to question the motives for such policies which are both unnecessary and wasteful of the public purse. 

I have previously challenged Highways on their removal of stone paving and now they are removing other heritage street furniture unnecessarily, assuming perhaps that no-one will notice, even in conservation areas where such things should not be permitted.

Well, people do notice.  My father was a roads engineer in the West Africa when I was a child, and he built better roads in the Nigerian bush fifty years ago than most of these contractors do for Leeds in the 21st century.

It is a scandal that these public servants fail to properly justify the trust that is given to them and wilfully misuse that position to produce shoddy workmanship and unnecessary destruction of our traditional heritage.

Complain about this waste of our public resources to your local Councillor,

and the

Chief Executive of Leeds City Council

Leader of the Council

or Head of Highways

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