Highways Maintenance FAQs

What are you doing about the state of the roads and pavements?

While Brent is performing better than the London average for the state of its main roads, the number of faults being identified and reported on the roads is on the rise. The council is determined to improve how we tackle potholes and cracked, rocking or protruding slabs on roads and pavements.

A plan to spend an additional £2million on improving roads and pavements around the borough has been agreed. Despite significant cuts in funding from central government, the council's Cabinet met on 23 May 2016, to agree an additional £2million, on top of the existing £3.55million annual council budget, to improve the maintenance and upkeep of roads and pavements around the borough. The report also sets out ways of moving to a more evidence-based approach to how the council plans improvements.

In order to combat potholes and other problems with our roads and pavements, we have two types of maintenance programmes; planned programmes and reactive programmes.

Planned Maintenance – refers to annual programmes of road resurfacing or pavement upgrades planned in advance.

Reactive Maintenance – refers to repair works on roads and pavements, where defects have been reported and inspected, and considered necessary for immediate repair.

How do you decide which roads to resurface / pavements to upgrade?

While we are resurfacing more roads and pavements than before, unfortunately, limited Council resources mean that it is not possible to repair each and every defect, and we have to prioritise cases that pose the most risk to the public.

Before deciding which highways should be resurfaced or upgraded, we assess the roads and pavements around the borough to determine their current condition, using independent surveyors. This allows us to measure the number and severity of the defects, and allows us to compare the conditions to other roads and pavements in the borough.

Using a scoring system to measure the number and severity of defects, we then assess and compare the roads and pavements being considered for resurfacing or upgrades. When making this decision, we look at a range of factors. These include the level of risk the defect poses for the public, traffic usage in that area (including proximity of local schools and colleges), and how best to make limited resources stretch further.

The road that you’re resurfacing doesn’t look as bad as ours. Why are you doing that one and not ours?

When the independent surveyors assess the roads and pavements in the borough, they look at surface level problems, for instance potholes, and they also look at deeper lying problems under the surface. These deeper structural problems are often difficult to see for a casual observer, but can cause serious problems if left unchecked. The major resurfacing programme addresses the structural condition of the roads, as well as the surface defects.

Why are you replacing slabs with asphalt?

Pavement reconstruction now often includes slabs being replaced with asphalt, which will help to make pavements more resilient and durable, and fit for purpose for the demands of today. Dropped crossings and street corners will be surfaced using concrete block paving, to ensure long term resilience to create a good look and feel. By using tarmac, we are able to make our limited resources stretch further, meaning more pavements can be repaired, making the borough a safer, more accessible place to live.

I am worried about possible damage to my house caused by traffic vibrations. Is there anything you can do to check?

Vibrations caused by passing traffic can often be unsettling, but the good news is that there is very little evidence to suggest that they cause even cosmetic damage such as small cracks in plaster.

We can check the road outside for any defects above our repair threshold (that may be contributing to vibration) and, depending on the severity, we can repair these. Our repair thresholds are 20mm for pavement trips; 2cm for potholes within 1.5m of the kerb, and 3cm elsewhere. Please remember that even with these repairs, there is no guarantee that vibrations can be eliminated entirely, and in many cases, the engine noise of traffic will also produce vibrations, for instance in windows.

How are potholes formed?

When the surface of a road ages, it becomes more porous, which means it allows rainwater to soak in more easily through cracks and other flaws.

In wet conditions, the pressure produced by car tyres passing over the area forces more water down into the road surface, which weakens it even further. When the weather is cold and wet, water that has entered into the ground freezes and expands, loosening chunks of the surface material of and causing faster deterioration of the road. Once a pothole has formed, it will get bigger the more traffic passes over it, as cars driving over the potholes will continue to weaken and dislodge broken pieces of the road surface.

When the surface of a road has weakened over a larger area, potholes are more likely to reoccur. In most of these cases, the entire road surface will need to be repaired or completely replaced under our road surfacing programme.

How do we know where the potholes are?

We have a team of highway inspectors who regularly patrol Brent roads to identify defects and problems in line with the Code of Practice “Well Maintained Highways”. Main roads and pedestrian areas are inspected more frequently than minor roads.

How can I report a pothole or any other type of defect?

Potholes can develop very quickly and reports from the public can help keep us on top of defects around the borough. You can report a defect (like a pothole or a broken slab) in a number of ways.

What happens when I report a defect (such as broken paving or a pothole)?

The defect will be logged for inspection. When inspected, the defects go through a two stage process:

Stage 1 - Is the defect severe enough to be considered for repair? The pothole / defect will need to meet our intervention levels to be considered for repair. For example, a defect needs to have a minimum depth of 2cm on pavements and 3cm on roads.

Stage 2 – What is the risk? A risk assessment is carried out on any defects that meet the intervention levels, and they are categorised as High, Medium or Low priority. All high and medium priority defects are marked with white paint by our contractor. Low priority defects are noted, for record purposes only.

How long does it take to get the defect repaired?

Safety is always our highest priority. Each defect is inspected and put into a category:

Emergency defects are made safe between 2 – 24 hours after inspection. These repairs may be temporary to make the road safe, with permanent repairs being scheduled in for a later date.

Other high priority defects are repaired within 7 days

Medium priority defects are repaired within 28 days of them being ordered.

Larger or more complex works, such as major resurfacing of roads or pavements, are generally scheduled separately and will differ in timescales.

Sometimes we are unable to carry out immediate repairs due to other hazards or long term flooding. If this is the case, we may use temporary signs and barriers to divert vehicles around the defect.

See ‘What are you doing about the state of the roads and pavements” for more details.

How can I keep up to date with the status of the repair?

If you gave us your email address when you reported the defect, you should get automatic updates from our system. If not, please ring 020 8937 5050 for an update.

I reported some cracked slabs but they haven’t been repaired – why is that?

If the slabs are just cracked, and there is no “lip” for someone to trip over, it wouldn’t qualify as a safety hazard and so it wouldn’t be considered for repair under reactive maintenance. Remember any “lip” between slabs (or the broken edges of slabs) will need to meet our repair threshold of 2cm to be considered for repair.

Why are some potholes repaired temporarily, wouldn’t it be cheaper and safer just to repair them properly the first time?

Where possible we do a first time permanent repair; but sometimes temporary repairs are needed. There are a few explanations for why this is the case.

Firstly, if road conditions are wet or icy, a permanent repair wouldn’t actually work; ice or water would also prevent the repair sticking to the existing road.

Secondly, permanent repairs take a good deal of time and, depending on their location, may require temporary traffic lights to be brought in or a road closure. This requires more equipment, staff and planning, and a temporary repair is better than leaving it

Thirdly, the pothole, or cluster of them, may actually be indicate an underlying problem on the stretch of road, requiring further investigation and potential resurfacing of an entire section. Again, this is a much larger job which cannot be done on the spot, so we’ll ensure the holes are temporarily filled to keep the area safe in the meantime.

You repaired the slabs on our pavement last week, and they’re broken again. Why has this happened?

It’s more likely that someone is continually driving over the slabs and breaking them. Pavement slabs are not designed to take the weight of vehicles.

In cases where slabs are being broken time after time, we may also replace slabs with another material such as concrete, asphalt or concrete block paving. This is to keep the pavement safe and stop money being wasted on repeat repair work, which experience has shown does not last.