Highways and Environment

August 20th 2020

I’d like to start by saying that as we continue in these challenging times, our focus remains on delivering our services safely and, where it’s needed, devising ways to adapt to a new normal.

We appreciate that many residents don’t want to go back to the way things were. Where we see or identify an opportunity to add value and make improvements across our services for local communities, we are working closely with our colleagues in the council to try and achieve this.

Volunteering

One such example is our volunteer programme, which has been running for more than seven years’ now, and the value to our local communities has never been more important.

Our volunteering programmes restarted on 4 July and I’m pleased to report that around 75-80% of previously active groups are back up and running again. Our two community partnership officers manage approximately 100 volunteer groups across Cornwall and between them supported more than 70,000 hours of volunteering last year alone.

Many more groups are currently in the process of being signed up and we believe this is testament to the value and importance of our environment and the benefits it brings for health and wellbeing.

Reflecting on previous years the initial focus for many of our volunteering projects was about tidying untidy spaces. Now the majority of our enquiries tend to focus on the provision of space that both nature and the local community can enjoy.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions we are not currently loaning out our toolkit trailer to community groups, but if you, or someone you know would like to get involved you can contact Rebecca Dickson or Danny Konik by email volunteer@cormacltd.co.uk to find out more.

Making space for nature

In many locations you may have noticed that the wildflowers have now set seed which means our environment teams are visiting our urban areas (for roads with speed limits under 30 mph) and cutting back verges. This is likely to see grass cuttings left in place which in time will mulch down and eventually disappear but will provide a vital habitat for wildlife in the meantime.

Leaving the verges uncut has created a considerable amount of interest, both positive and negative, and we are listening so that we can learn and improve the maintenance regimes for the next and future years. For now, the majority of verges in urban areas will be left to ‘wild’ so that we can better understand and try and quantify the benefits and gains in biodiversity which have been so evident this year. As a result, some verges may appear unmaintained, but this is integral in helping new habitats to establish themselves.

The programme of cutting of urban verges, which represents around 75 hectares will take between six and eight weeks to complete across the county. Information on our environment operational programme of cuts, which are updated weekly are available on our environment pages.

I have attached some facts and figures in relation to the work our environment teams carry out, which provides more insight into the spaces we maintain on behalf of the council.

In rural areas (for roads with speed limits above 30 mph), our highways teams will be undertaking a ‘Serviceability cut’ on verges again in the autumn.

Responding to ragwort

At this time of year, the prevalence of Ragwort can also raise quite a number of enquiries.

Areas that are discovered on our network are risk assessed and placed into one of three categories (in accordance with the ragwort code of practice). Dependent upon the category, works are either carried out prior to the plants setting seed; a longer-term action plan to monitor/take action is set up; or, the areas are deemed to be low risk and no action is required.

The majority of areas, unless they are next to grazing farmland will be dealt with in the ‘Serviceability’ cut in the Autumn.

Further information can be found on the Cornwall Council website here:

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/environment-and-planning/trees-hedges-and-woodland/invasive-plants/common-ragwort/

Rural highway maintenance

We know the summer hasn’t quite come to an end just yet, but we are already starting to prepare for the onset of autumn and winter. Our highway teams will soon be out and about carrying out ‘routine’ – normal cyclical maintenance on the rural network.

Utilising the information gathered from regular inspections, reports from our stewards and our chargehands, who are very familiar with their local areas. As well as reported online defects, our programmes have been developed to ensure we do all we can to maintain a safe network in readiness for the autumn and winter months. This will involve digging and clearing ditches to keep drainage systems functioning and cleanings signs. If you know of any areas which could benefit from a visit from one of our gangs please get in touch to let us know by using our highway services and fault reporting system.

This system is proving to be extremely successful, currently 57% of defects are reported online – up 7% on last year’s figures. We would like to continue to increase usage and encourage defects to be reported in this way.

And finally, you may have seen the latest weather warnings with forecasts of strong winds and heavy rain continuing today. These unseasonal storms create challenging conditions and I want to assure you that our standby crews are ready to assist with any emergencies and clear-up operations. We have additional resources at the ready and will be working in close liaison with the Emergency Planning team, other agencies and emergency services as part of the county-wide response.

To report urgent problems where there are large areas of standing water or the road is impassable and causing a safety hazard, or water from the highway is flooding adjacent property, please telephone 0300 1234 222 (24 hour service) giving details of the location.

To report flooding on the trunk roads (A30 and A38) please call Highways England on 0300 123 5000.

Despite the conditions we are currently faced with, I hope you all enjoy what is left of the summer months and I will provide another update on our planned actions again soon.

Stay well and drive with care.

Best wishes,

Andy James

Head of Highways and Environment

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