North Yorkshire is England’s largest authority and its 5,000 mile road network connects towns, villages and market towns across vast rural areas – a distance which would more than stretch from England to Pakistan.
Its beauty attracts visitors from all over the world and maintaining roads fit for purpose for tourism, business and residents is a top priority.
Indeed North Yorkshire is increasing its spending on preventative road maintenance, bucking the trend nationally, in order to bring down the cost of reactive patching and pothole repair.
By the end of August the County Council, in partnership with its contractor Ringway, will have surface dressed around 400 miles of road, more than ever before, in a process which combines bitumen with chippings.
The County Council is typically spending £65m a year on road maintenance, significantly more than in the past. The additional money comes from a £44m pot being spent between 2014-21 to bring more of the road network up to scratch, particularly across rural areas.
The £44m is made up of £20m of the County Council’s own money and £24m from a successful and innovative joint capital bid with East Riding to the Local Growth Fund, linking the maintenance of the rural road network with economic growth. This was the first bid nationally to the Local Growth Fund for capital funding to be spent on road maintenance.
North Yorkshire has a much higher percentage of rural roads than most areas. They account for almost 75 per cent of the county’s road network, compared to 29 per cent in a typical local authority.
This year the County Council has spent an estimated £12.7 million on surface dressing, around £650,000 more than last year and on more miles than ever, up five per cent on last year’s extensive programme which was already more than in previous years.
Many of these roads are basically tracks that have been continually surfaced over many generations. Surface dressing allows them to remain flexible and waterproof and last for years.
“Our additional funding for roads is about vital support for economic growth, supporting business and keeping communities and the economy on the move,” said Cllr Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Highways.
“Surface dressing also helps to keep roads safe, improving skid resistance. In more urban, densely populated areas and on estate roads we are also now using a system called lock-chip, which binds the chippings to improve safety.”
“In addition, we aim to complete this programme every year before autumn when the weather deteriorates. This minimises costs and improves the life of the material.”
Many businesses in North Yorkshire are situated along minor rural roads, so their upkeep is vital to the success of trade. For example, the Himalayan Garden & Sculpture Park in Grewelthorpe, near Ripon, is more than happy with the surface dressing programme recently completed in and around the village.
“It’s a fantastic job” said Selina Shackleton, the garden’s events manager. “The county council came along earlier in the year to fill in the potholes on our road and now all the road surfaces in the village have been redone so it looks fantastic. We’ve wanted this work done as it makes such a difference to our access so we are very happy.”
The Lion Inn at Blakey
The road over Blakey Ridge between Rosedale and Farndale must be one of the most exposed in England.
It runs north through the heather between Hutton-le-Hole and Castleton, rising over 1300 feet to The Lion Inn which stands midway at the highest point of the North York Moors.
The road takes the full blast of the weather which blows off the North Sea. Barry Crossland, landlord at The Lion for the last 35 years, knows more than most how fast the road can disappear into fog and sea-fret; how fast the temperature falls in winter; how fast the moor can freeze; how fast the snow can fall.
This year he feels easier about the approach of winter. During these past weeks of summer the potholes have been filled, the road resurfaced and the essential white lines repainted bright and fresh, a crucial guide to night-time traffic across the blackness of the moor.
The County Council is in the middle of a two-year improvement and resurfacing plan for the road, which is a lifeline to The Lion, the local community and visitors alike.
“The weather can change up here so often,” said Barry, “so we really need the road to be in a fit state. We’re very glad that the Council has been able to do this work.”
There’s no other obvious way to The Lion, except by this road, so Barry is also glad that the road has been kept open during the works. He said: “It’s been brilliant. The Council has kept the road open for us by using traffic lights and a convoy system. Our business hasn’t suffered at all”.
When a milkman from Leeds, Barry Crossland fell in love with The Lion Inn on a day out with a friend and bought it on a whim. He had never pulled a pint in his life and the place was derelict. Over the years and with the help of his close-knit and dedicated staff and his two sons Paul and David, he has developed a thriving business. The Lion draws visitors from across the globe with its famous welcome, its open fires, local ales, homemade food and its ghosts.
It had thrived before in the 19th century with the establishment of the iron mines in Rosedale, A pair of original miner’s boots hanging over the hearth are testament to that rugged trade. Before that, back in the 16th century, it was a Friar Inn, founded by brethren to lighten their poverty.
Now The Lion throws open its doors to walkers, cyclists, bikers and travellers by car. The car park is often full; the road brings people in from the cold and the County Council’s snow ploughs frequently dig them out.
“It’s very exposed up here and the snow comes down so fast” said Barry. “Many a time people coming to the pub have been snowed in overnight. We’ve had some great parties because of it. One night two coachloads – 90 people – were snowed in. There were bodies sleeping all over the floor by the morning. We’ve had to use metal detectors to find cars in the car park! But the snow ploughs are always out the next day, digging out the road, getting folk back on track.”
While routine gritting of Blakey Ridge ensures the road is salted when necessary during the winter, the Council relies on some of the farming contractors to help to clear the snow once the road becomes blocked. The snowdrifts can easily top two metres during the worst winter spells.
Moreover, the Council has established customer communications officers to cover the county’s highways and Barry has established a hotline to Sharon Fox, the officer for the Moors: “It’s great to have somebody to contact without going round the houses.”
He said: “This road may be remote but it gets pretty busy with visitors and local businesses and also for people going to work – lots travelling down from Redcar to the bacon factory in Malton. We had people ten deep along the road by The Lion this year watching the Tour de Yorkshire go by. So it’s important in so many ways that it’s kept up to scratch”.