When County Councils came into being in the late 1880s, they were charged with maintaining ‘main’ roads, roughly 25% of the highway network. It became common practice for day-to-day maintenance to be undertaken by a number of roadmen, each appointed to maintain a length of road. This gave rise to the term, ‘the lengthsman’. Over time, greater mechanisation and centralisation replaced lengthsmen with area-based work teams, controlled from County offices and depots.
In 2000 Herefordshire Council launched a local initiative, the ‘Lengthsman Scheme,’ to devolve some minor highway works to Parish Councils. The scheme provides each participating parish with a small delegated budget to cover highway maintenance on their local roads, excluding any ‘A’ roads. Parishes are permitted to use the delegated
budget to employ a local contractor to undertake the works – the lengthsman. The annual rate of payment reduces after three years. This allows for a period of ‘catch up’, where any long standing issues can be prior to settling on a programme of routine maintenance.
Legal responsibility for highway maintenance remains unchanged by the scheme, resting with Herefordshire Council.
Parish Councils receive full support from Herefordshire Council throughout the process, including:
- advice on how to go about appointing their own lengthsman
- Health & Safety courses and advice on insurance requirements
- guidance on permitted works and area contacts for onward referral of more major works.
Each parish is unique, with a different mix of landscapes and a differing balance of environmental factors to consider. This scheme allows local knowledge and experience to shape the programme of works undertaken and allows local inhabitants to have a direct say in what they believe would best benefit their parish. Works carried out by lengthsmen can range from clearing minor storm debris discharged onto the highway, cutting back overgrown hedges encroaching on footways and verge cutting as required by the parish.
The scheme has proved extremely popular. In 2000, six parishes joined the new scheme. By 2005 there were 50 participating parishes with a more waiting to join. This growth has been fuelled primarily by word-of-mouth endorsement as parish councillors have seen the successes of their neighbouring parishes.
The Way Forward
The Lengthsman scheme has proved an extremely successful way of managing minor highways maintenance. During
2006 60 parishes will be participating in the scheme, representing over a third of parishes in the county. The
plan is to continue to develop the scheme, with the aim of encouraging additional parishes to join in future years.
The Council is also considering the potential to extend the scheme to incorporate Town Councils.
This might allow Herefordshire’s five market towns – Ledbury, Leominster, Ross on Wye, Bromyard, Kington and Hereford city itself – to participate in the scheme.
As highway issues are likely to be more significant in the towns, the scheme would focus more upon ‘Streetscene’ improvements such as litter, sign maintenance, graffiti and even public toilets.
Lengthsmen are usually contracted to undertake the following:
- Verge cutting – 2 cuts per year, between April and October – to ensure adequate visibility
- Hedge and Fence Management – Arrange cutting back of overgrown hedges encroaching on footways. Strim overgrowth along footways in urban areas. Paint and repair fences. Clear foliage blocking visibility of road traffic signs and sight lines
- Drainage – Clear leaves and other debris from gully grid tops, drainage grips and entrances and exits of highway culverts
- Minor Storm Debris & Litter – Clear all minor storm debris discharged onto the highway and keep tidy all specified roads.
- Non-Mains Powered Traffic Signs – Ensure legibility and visibility of Traffic Signs including straightening, cleaning and removing vegetation. Repaint traditional finger and mileposts to help preserve local heritage and character
- Nominated Tasks – Specific Minor Highway Maintenance Items – As agreed by the Council’s Area Manager