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Borough's highways contractor 'in a good place', meeting hears

The contractor looking after the Royal Borough’s roads and highways says it is happy with its performance but has outlined areas where it could improve.

VolkerHighways was awarded a contract by the borough back in April 2017 and since then, has looked after the management and maintenance of various aspects of the council highways, including potholes and road markings.

An infrastructure overview and scrutiny panel heard from the firm at a meeting on Wednesday last week, and inspected an annual review of the contract delivered by Volker.

Project manager Darren Nizon told members that VolkerHighways is in a ‘good place’ in terms of its performance.

“I believe at the moment that our performance is good and we generally perform well in most areas,” he said.

“This year, we are in a good place in terms of the work we are doing, and have a good workforce which has been working particularly hard since March and the lockdown.”

Mr Nizon did acknowledge that Volker has had to overcome some challenges, with a certain harsh winter resulting in a series of breakdowns to vehicles, which delayed the service.

He also recalled that the company was using two old gully emptiers which it has since replaced.

Looking to the future, Mr Nizon hopes that Volker will be able to increase its electric vehicle fleet – which it is making use of anyway – as well as different materials it could source to save energy. He also cited recycling as a key priority.

The council’s head of infrastructure, Ben Smith, informed members of a survey with residents who are asked about the delivery of highways and transport services in their local authority areas.

“The most recent survey was 750 of our residents,” Mr Smith said of the annual ‘National Highways and Transport Benchmarking Survey’.

“One of the areas that performed very well was street cleansing, [we were] sixth highest nationally for cleanliness of our roads.

“The areas where we do not fare quite as well, which are outside the scope of the VolkerHighways contract, is our provision of local bus services and local transport.”

Mr Smith added that a report will be going to cabinet in April next year about the next steps regarding the VolkerHighways contract.

This marks exactly a year before it is due to end, and councillors will decide how to progress, including whether to bring services more in-house, keeping the existing contract or shopping for a new one.

Also discussed at the meeting was the safety of highway trees in the borough.

A survey of the trees – outsourced to VolkerHighways – commenced in April 2017.

In a three-year period, a total of 30,991 trees have been inspected, and of these, 476 were identified as needing further attention. Volker also looked at some 1,735 roads.

Half way through the meeting, tempers flared between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which saw one leave the Zoom call.

After this, councillors proceeded to discuss the council's failure to commit to fully funding a River Thames flood defence scheme. Read the story here. 

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