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Bob Lane writes about his experiences dealing with the Highways Agency over the littered state of the M2 and A2.

  • J2 of the M2 resembled a rubbish tip – no cleaning for years
  • Highways Agency forwarded my complaint to contractor seemingly without looking at it
  • Contractor’s claim to have completely cleaned junction was patently untrue
  • Agency Area Director had relied entirely on information supplied by the contractor
  • When I took the Agency’s Asset Manager for Kent to see the junctions that had supposedly been cleaned they were in a deplorable state.
  • The next day they started to clean J2. A small army had to work for several days to clean a junction that had allegedly been recently “completely cleaned”a month before.
  • Most of the litter clearance was carried out without lane closures
Area 4 map

Highways Agency Area 4 roads are shown in blue

The M2 motorway in Kent, together with the A2 from the western end of the M2 motorway to the junction with the M25, forms part of the Highways Agency’s Area 4. Maintenance of Area 4 is contracted out to Balfour Beatty Mott McDonald (BBMM).

Our local environment was looking decidedly shabby, and junction 2 of the M2 in particular resembled either a neglected wasteland or a rubbish tip, either or both descriptions fitted equally well. On 30 September 2014 I complained to the Highways Agency (HA). I identified Junction 2 together with a couple of local junctions on the A2 West which were lacking any maintenance (no road cleansing, vegetation control, or litter clearing) whatsoever.

As usual, the HA forwarded our complaint directly to their contractor BBMM without even looking into it, and on 16 October we got the standard bland response from the contractor, assuring us that they fully met the requirements of EPA 1990. I replied stating that when I write to the HA, I expect a reply from the HA, not their contractor, and pointed out that since they had not carried out any road cleansing, litter clearing or vegetation control at M2 Junction 2 for years, then they could not possibly be complying with the required standards.

BBMM’s next response on 23 October claimed that M2 junction 2 had in fact been “completely cleaned under a full closure” just 12 days earlier, and that the other junctions on the A2 had been cleaned during the past week. This was patently untrue – they had not carried out any maintenance at all, and the litter and vegetation was untouched and had been accumulating over a prolonged period.

I therefore complained directly to the HA Chief Executive Graham Dalton. On 3 November I received a long reply from the Area Director Simon Jones, in which he stated that their contractor BBMM carries out weekly litter inspections of the A2 West and M2, focussing on the main carriageways one week and on the junctions the next, to determine where litter needs to be cleared (it occurred to me that I do hope that the contractor does not drive during these inspections, since it would appear that they must be visually-impaired). He then repeated the misguided assertion that the junctions had just been cleaned.

It was evident that the Area Director had also carried out no checks whatsoever into the contractor’s claims, and had relied entirely on information supplied to him by the contractor to draft his response. I therefore insisted on a meeting with him or his senior representative to jointly inspect the areas that supposedly had just been cleaned.

On 12 November, I and one of my neighbours met with the HA’s Asset Manager for Kent, Kevin Bown (who incidentally had to hire a car for the day). After listening to his explanations about litter clearing and vegetation control programmes, and all the difficulties this entails, such as the need for closures, etc, we went on a brief inspection tour where we showed him the junctions which had supposedly been recently cleaned. He went very quiet during the actual inspections – the junctions were deplorable, with long-standing dirt and debris extending out into the carriageways, mature weeds growing freely on the kerbs and in the gulleys, wildly overgrown verges, absolutely infested with cans, bottles, plastic wrappers, etc. It was patently obvious that the junctions had NOT been maintained, and that the Area Director had been badly misled in his response to my complaint.

Credit where credit’s due, the Asset Manager Kevin Bown provoked BBMM into immediate action. Within a day, we saw the first team of contractors appear at Junction 2 to collect litter. Clearly the task was beyond them, and the following week they had to send multiple teams to the junction. It was like a small army. The teams worked for several days, clearing truck-loads of litter, cutting back the verges, removing the weeds from the kerbs and gulleys, and cleaning the road surfaces. All this on a junction that allegedly had been “completely cleaned” just a month earlier. It was also noticeable that most of the litter clearance was carried out without the need for a closure.

Since then, the HA contractor BBMM has carried out litter picking on the verges alongside the A2 and has finally collected litter and cut back the vegetation on the other junctions I complained about on the A2 West.

It is not acceptable that it has taken a complaint to the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency, together with insistence on a meeting to inspect the areas of complaint, before action was taken. The HA has an obligation to keep the highways and junctions reasonably maintained and free of litter, and we expect them to meet their obligations as a matter of course.

As for Junction 2, despite the massive operation to clear the long-standing litter and debris, new litter is already starting to accumulate. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to the few junctions I originally identified. I recently drove the length of the A2/M2, and there is plenty of litter in evidence, both on the verges and in the central reservations. This is in stark contrast with the motorways on the near continent, and is a shameful reflection on our country. We have sadly got used to it, but it must be shocking to visitors from abroad.
My brief foray has identified a number of problems we experience in this country:

• Clearly the HA has no concept of what constitutes a reasonable service, nor do they monitor their contractors’ performance or check their claims. It shouldn’t be necessary for fed-up residents to raise complaints to the Chief Executive and insist on site meetings to get the job done. The HA has an obligation under the Environment Protection Act to keep our highways clear of litter, and that is what they must deliver as business-as-usual.

• The HA’s contractors (or at least BBMM in Area 4) appear to be taking the money (our money) without doing what they are paid to do. It would also appear that they are falsely reporting. This would seem to me to be a clear material breach of contract (others could consider this to be criminally fraudulent). Does the HA take the necessary actions available to them under the terms of the contract, ie withholding payment, applying damages, or even contract termination?

• We do not appear to have any adequate deterrent to stop irresponsible drivers dumping litter out of their vehicles. Where are the enforcement cameras, especially at junctions, sliproads, and known hotspots?

• I am told that HGV drivers are one of the major culprits for litter on our highways. I am not convinced that this is the case, but if it is true, then we need to ask the question why? The A2/M2 is one of the main routes to the Channel ports, and the majority of HGVs on the A2/M2 are foreign-registered, on their way to or from Dover. These are the same trucks and drivers which drive through France, Holland, Belgium, etc, and yet they don’t seem to have the same litter problems across the Channel as we do in the UK.

• We in the UK do not adequately cater for the ever-increasing volumes of HGVs on our roads. Where are the truck stops, equipped with toilets, eateries, litter disposal facilities? Is it any wonder that many HGV drivers have to rest in scruffy laybys, eat and perform their natural functions on the move, and then throw their rubbish (and worse) out of the windows?

Whatever the causes, there is no excuse for the HA and their contractors in failing in their obligation under EPA 1990 to keep our highways clear of litter, debris, weeds, and vegetation. Don’t let them get away with it – if you see rubbish, then complain.

Bob Lane
30th November 2014

Published here
14th January 2015

 

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