ACER representatives walk round all the streets in the Whitegates area every 2 / 3 months (more often in the summer) and note the following:
- Condition of grass verges;
- Weeds in channel (between pavement and road), at the back of the pavement and (increasingly) in between the kerbstone and the tarmac on the pavement;
- Debris (leaves, soil, grass etc) in the channel and on the pavement;
- The amount of litter (and litter hotspots in that road);
- Parking on the road, pavement or verge;
- Flooding issues;
- Other issues (including uneven pavements).
Weeds, debris and litter are given a score: 0=none, 1 = minimal, 2 = some, 3 = widespread. The database highlights those aspects of the streets that have improved and those that have deteriorated.
This information is entered into a database which is sent to Cleaner and Greener at WBC. Local councillors, ACER committee and EASI are also sent copies.
The survey started in Summer 2016. During the last year Cleaner and Greener staff have walked round with ACER representatives twice to look are areas of concern and WBC Highways staff have accompanied ACER once.
Summary of findings
Grass Verges – There are 2 aspects to the condition of the verges:
- Uncut grass – over the past year the grass verges have been cut very infrequently. This means that the grass is extremely long and usually seeding by the time it is cut. The consequences of this are three-fold. First, the seeds settle in the channel and at the back of the pavement, where they germinate in the accumulating debris and lead to weed growth (see below). Second, when cut the long grass is not collected and therefore settles in the channel and at the back of the pavement (leading to an increase in debris and weeds) and is washed into drains causing blockages. Third, the long uncut grass hides the uneven surfaces of the damaged verges and thus causes a trip hazard – particularly where pedestrians are having to walk on the grass because the pavement is blocked by parked cars. It should also be noted that the long grass hides litter and thus makes it more difficult for the EASI volunteers to pick up.
- Damaged verges – the verges in a number of roads (recorded in detail separately by ACER and sent to Earley Town Council) are very badly damaged due to regular parking on verges, activities associated with building work (particularly where there are extensions) and residents driving over the grass where the drive entrance has been widened without a corresponding widening of the dropped kerb area. In many places these damaged verges are becoming extremely dangerous and although the grass has grown back in some instances, due to the wet summer, this actually compounds the issue as the unevenness in not noticeable.
Despite repeated requests to WBC to come and cut the verges when they have become too long (and apologies from WBC and eventual action) this situation has not improved over the last year. The verges are extremely long at the moment although it is promised that they will be cut during the first week in October.
Weeds – In most streets where there are weeds these have increased over the last year. In many streets channel weeds and back pavement weeds are widespread and weeds are now beginning to appear between the kerb stone and the pavement tarmac. In the long term this will lead to degradation of the pavement and road surface. There is already a gap appearing between the kerb and the road in Hilltop Road.
WBC stated that weeds are sprayed three times a year but there has been no evidence of spraying this year although there has been some hand removal in a few streets. Weed growth could also be reduced if the roads were swept more often, particularly after grass cutting.
Debris – The amount of debris in the channels or on the pavement varies from street to street and did seem to have improved in some streets when inspected in September 2017 (compared with June 2017). However, it is obvious from the amount of moss etc that the backs of some pavements have not been swept for a very long time even where there are no overhanging trees. The accumulation of debris leads to increased growth of weeds and also blocked drains. It is noted that the street sweepers do not necessarily sweep on the date advertised on the WBC website and that they often drive down the middle of the road which obviously does not clear the channels.
Litter – Although there are still some litter hotspots, generally there is less litter around than there was 18 months ago. This is partly thanks to increased activity on the part of EASI (regular pickers and working parties) and to WBC for replacing some bins. The main litter problems are outside the local shops, including M&S at Shepherds Hill, near the A4, along Town Lane (school children) and outside houses where there is extension work being carried out. There also tends to be increased litter where there are parked cars. There are a few households (particularly rented properties in the London Rd area) who leave recycling bins (often containing unrecyclable material) and blue bags out all week and who would benefit from a reminder leaflet from WBC. ACER have asked the university to advise new students in rented accommodation about the WBC refuse collections and recycling policy.
Flooding – There were 3 main areas of concern: the bus stop outside M&S, London Road South and Culver Lane (under the bridge). WBC were alerted to these areas of regular flooding and there have been no major problems over the last few months. Obviously as autumn continues there will be more leaves to test the system so ACER will continue to monitor these areas.
Parking – Parking is an increasing problem in Whitegates with many streets having a significant number of cars parked on the road, the pavement, the grass verge and even the cycle path (Pitts Lane). This results in blocked pavements, blocked cycle paths, blocked roads (particularly where buses are trying to get through), damaged verges and frustrated residents unable to park outside their own homes. The increase in parked cars is a result of a number of factors. It is recognised that householders have more cars than they did when many of these houses were built, but the problem is exacerbated by the increase in HMOs and rented properties (where there can be 6 or 8 car users in residence), small business and taxi businesses operating from home, passengers parking to use the bus into town and larger businesses (e.g. M&S) not allowing their staff to park on site.
Other – The main other issue is the continuing degradation of the pavement (tree roots etc) and highway, particularly on the minor roads, such as Byron Road.
ACER recognises that there is limited funding for street maintenance (grass cutting, street cleaning, repairs) but believes that the current system is not capable of maintaining the condition of the streets never mind improving the state of the roads, pavements and verges.
ACER believes that there are a number of measures that could be taken by WBC which would ensure that the money spent on this aspect of street maintenance is used more effectively – i.e. the residents would get more for their money. These measures include in the shorter term:
- Cutting the grass verges more often – it will be more cost effective in the long term!
- Coordinating grass cutting, sweeping and spraying/weed removal so that any debris from cutting and weed removal is swept away immediately before settling in channels, blocking drains etc.
- Ensuring that roads which experience heavy parking are swept in the middle of the day when there are likely to be fewer parked cars and therefore the channels can be reached. If residents knew when the roads were to be swept they may even be willing to move cars to allow a more effective sweep.
- Monitoring the sweeping of roads and pavements. Residents do try to help here, but as they do not know when the sweeper is due they are unable to check if the job has been done properly.
- Following up on applications for extensions / other building work to ensure that damaged verges have been repaired, litter and debris removed etc.
In the longer term the following should be considered:
- The implications for on-street parking of planning applications for in-fill, HMOs, extensions and businesses.
- The replacement of some damaged verges in roads such as London Road South, Delamere Road, Erleigh Court Gardens with tarmac parking bays. This would reduce the maintenance cost of the verges and be more cost-effective in the longer term.
ACER representatives, together with all the ETC and WBC councillors for Whitegates, meet Cleaner and Greener and Highways representatives to discuss how the system for street maintenance can be made more cost effective.