Exmoor Pilot Milestones Met
Highlights from the March meeting of the Exmoor Area Panel, held at The Moorland Hall, Cutcombe
On 1 April 2023 a new Somerset Council will replace the current county and district councils. To ensure communities have ability to influence decisions in their areas under the unitary authority, up to 20 Local Community Networks (LCNs) will be set up, covering every corner of the county. They’ll act as ‘committees’ of the new Council, and they’ll have devolved budget.
Three pilot LCNs are currently testing this new approach: in the Frome area, in the Wincanton, Bruton and Castle Cary area, and one across Exmoor. The Exmoor LCN pilot is focusing on Highways’ service provision.
Presenting at the Exmoor Area Board in Cutcombe were Highways Strategic Manager Andrew Turner, Neil Guild (Asset Manager), Craig Gowan (Programme Engineer) and Adrian Lee (Corp Bus Intelligence and Insight Manager).
Three key milestones
After weeks of work, staff from County delivered three key announcements that will significantly shift the way we engage with residents.
They confirmed the following:
- a Highways Steward with van and equipment will be in post by the spring
- a proportion of the Highways maintenance budget will be passed to parishes
- funding for a new ‘broker’ role has been secured
Highways Steward Scheme
A highly responsive Highways Steward, complete with van and equipment, will be operational this spring, as part of the Exmoor pilot. They’ll be performing the kind of low-tech maintenance duties that are of high importance to communities, and yet consume County Highways’ postbags. They range from sweeping the leaves off the gully-tops, and cutting back brambles from footways, to fixing problem patches of grass causing visibility issues. If successful, the scheme could be rolled-out across the county under the new unitary arrangements.
Devolved Highways Maintenance Budget
Also confirmed at the Exmoor Area Panel meeting, was devolving a proportion of the Highways maintenance budget to parishes. Exmoor parishes can influence how, where and when that money is spent. They will need to exercise their own purchasing controls, and there are parameters to work within, but essentially, they can prioritise their own highway maintenance works and deliver it themselves.
Highways Strategic Manager, Andrew Turner, said: “We’ve passed some of the Highways maintenance budget to Exmoor parishes to order works at their own discretion and authority. It’s entirely in their gift to prioritise. This is about parishes having control. They have asked for this, and we’ve listened.”
Broker role secured
To better connect the Exmoor LCN pilot to highways, traffic and the wider highways and transport group, funding for a broker role has been secured. This will improve communications and ensure the pilot scheme objectives are fulfilled, monitored, and evaluated. Lessons learned will be presented to the new unitary administration for consideration as the LCN programme is rolled-out across the county after Vesting Day, on 1 April 2023.
Communications, asset mapping and influencing planned highway works
The Exmoor pilot team also touched on communications. They reported they had re-engineered their back-office processes and reminded parishes to use the County Highways reporting function as the cleanest way into the service. Report a problem on the road (somerset.gov.uk)
The location of assets, such as streetlights, gullies, and highway boundaries also prompted debate. A way forward is being sought for parishes to see how assets are being mapped.
Finally, the ability for parishes to influence works programmes, timings, diversion routes etc, is being established for the first time ever.
A subgroup of the Exmoor Area Panel has committed to support the Highways team in the development and delivery of schemes within the parish pilot area so when they arrive on-site, they have visibility and will have contributed to the detail of the scheme. Parish reps, street works, traffic, the contractor, and the Council’s asset management team will form the subgroup membership. Governance between the Panel and subgroup is being drawn up.
A positive experience
As the meeting ended, all agreed the Exmoor LCN pilot had come a long way in a very short time.
Highways Strategic Manager, Andrew Turner, concluded: “How LCNs will work is being developed, and feedback from pilots such as this one will help make recommendations on how they could be constituted going forward.
“We thank the Exmoor Area Panel for their hospitality and their positive approach. The plans were well received – nothing was dismissed. There was real appetite and ambition to test and try out new ideas.”
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News item added: 28 March, 2022