Posts Tagged ‘Highways’

Climate Change and Storm Dennis

Monday, February 17th, 2020

As I write this on Sunday morning, we are in a lull in Storm Dennis, our second named storm in a week.  Last weekend saw our Highways Department deal with 292 incidents of fallen trees or local flooding, about 7 times what we normally expect in a weekend.  Thankfully, we appear to have solved the issues fairly quickly, which comes down to a bit of luck, but also the preparation that we have undertaken, for example with the more targeted approach to gulley cleaning.  So far, Dennis appears to have been more rain than wind, but of course that comes on top of significant rain in Ciara last week, and a very wet autumn and winter.  We remain ready to respond and help Staffordshire’s residents who have been affected.

Following on from a 5 month drought in 2018 and a dry winter last year, it seems clear that we are seeing changing weather patterns, with lengthy periods of alternately hot and dry, followed by warm and wet.   It was therefore timely that I attended Engie’s Senior Managers’ Conference in Birmingham this week, to speak about our journey to zero carbon.  Engie is a French-owned energy company who ran the coal-fired power station in Rugeley, which closed a number of years ago.  They intend to redevelop the site themselves as a zero carbon settlement, with energy-efficient housing, solar panel farms and a zero carbon school serving the residents.  It is an ambitious scheme, the first of its kind in the country, and we are delighted to be working closely with them on it.  My part was speaking about our own journey, and I majored on reducing our carbon footprint in everything that we do, and across the county as opposed to just the county council.  Staffordshire County Council employs about 1% of the county’s workforce directly, and probably pays the salaries of another 7% in our commissioned operations; we also make up about 2% of the county’s carbon footprint.  We should clearly aim to reduce our internal carbon footprint, but the key will be in facilitating the wider county to reduce.  The target is huge, with about a third of energy consumed at home by heating and power, another third in transport, and about 18% in employment sites.  Helping our residents to make better choices in terms of insulation and heating in their homes, and in their personal transport, will be key.   

It’s not all about transport and housing though.  There are significant secondary benefits from such programmes as Superfast Broadband, allowing more people to work from home, reducing the traffic on our roads.  Our own Smart Working programme has taken an estimated 1 million miles off Staffordshire’s roads, which works out at 100 cars on an average annual mileage.  It doesn’t seem much perhaps, but if every employer in Staffordshire did the same, it would be 10,000 cars, and nationally it would be 500,000 cars.  Now we’re talking. 

The Annual CCN Conference, and our hard-working highways engineers.

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Last week the Council Leader, Philip Atkins, a number of Cabinet members and myself attended the annual County Councils Network Conference.  With the General Election campaign ongoing, there were no leading national politicians there, but that gave us the chance to concentrate on the issues that face all county councils across England.  There were excellent sessions about children’s services, the challenges of improving adult social care, and many others.  I find this probably the most useful of the few conferences which I normally attend, as it is more focussed than those which cover the whole local government sector.  We are all doing the same things in different places, and as a result there is much learning to be had.  One thing that was noticeable was that, despite the uncertainty of Brexit and the outcome of the General Election, morale was robust.

With this very wet autumn, which is such a contrast to last year’s 5 month summer drought and dry winter, spare a thought for our highways crews who are working across the county to keep traffic moving.  One aspect that has struck me is that our work in mapping and analysing the drainage system appears to be paying off.  About four years ago, we didn’t know how many drains (gulleys in the highways vernacular) we had and where they were.  We do now – we have 148,000 of them across the 6,400km of roads in the county.  Having done that piece of work, which was an accomplishment in itself, our highways engineers then worked out which ones need cleaning more often than others. Like so many things in life, putting in the effort up front before the emergency reduces the effort required to recover from the emergency.  And so it has been with the recent flooding.  The system relies on Severn Trent Water’s mains drains and the Environment Agency’s stewardship of our rivers, but the water has abated more quickly in known flooding areas on our roads than it has done previously.  We will need to keep an eye on the pattern of rainfall as the climate changes, to work out whether the overall system is capable of dealing with it, so there’s no room for complacency, but so far, so good.