15 March 2017
Road works

As the weather starts to improve, Northamptonshire County Council has started the spring phase of its extensive highways repair programme.

Every year there is a planned programme of works which involved various treatment methods, running alongside the reactive maintenance that addresses issues highlighted by routine inspections and reports via Street Doctor.

Roads everywhere are vulnerable in wintery weather as heavy rain, frost and snow all act to make surfaces more susceptible to deterioration.

Although this winter has not seen the extreme weather of previous years, it has been very wet and persistently cold with gritting crews completing 63 runs. This has meant that water has frozen, expanded, melted and created potholes.

Cllr Ian Morris, county council cabinet member for transport, highways and environment, said: “A combination of winter weather and increased heavy usage causes damage to roads and footways not just here but throughout Britain.

“With less and less money available to us for repairs we need to make a little go a long way and use innovation to make the public pound stretch further.”

The next phase of the Northamptonshire Highways repair programme is to carry out pre-surface patching. This started on 1 March and is seeing heavily potholed areas of the highway patched in preparation for the extensive ‘surface dressing’ programme.

Surface dressing

Surface dressing involves hot tar being sprayed on to the road surface and overlaid by chippings which are rolled on to the surface. When the tar cools it sets and holds the chippings to the surface of the road.

Surface dressing is recognised as a cost-effective way of preserving and extending the life of highways. This prevents the disintegration of the road surface and seals the surface of the road against ingress of water to protect its structure from damage.

The process creates what are commonly known as loose chippings and as a result traffic is slowed to 20mph to reduce the danger of partially embedded chippings flicking up in the first few days. Loose chippings are swept away within 24 hours of the initial dressing, and again within three days.

A heavy roller is used after initial treatment and the surface is usually fully embedded after around a week, due to the action of traffic moving across it.

The carriageway is safe to drive on following application of the chippings, provided speeds remain below 20mph. For safety, people are advised to drive slowly, keeping their distance, and to avoid turning or braking sharply. Motorists should also avoid overtaking.

Surface dressing is dependent on fine weather and, as such, the programme of works is liable to change.

More funding for highways

As well as being innovative to repair roads while providing value for money, the county council is also lobbying government for more funding to pay for road repairs.

We are currently working on multi million pound bids looking at securing funds for significant resurfacing works in the county on our strategic routes.

As an example of our previous successes, in 2014/15, the county received £1,544,481 from the 2014 Weather Repair Fund. This money provided an opportunity to bring forward a range of much needed improvements on the network and all local councillors have been involved in selecting a priority patching site for each of their districts.

More recently Northamptonshire County Council was one of 148 authorities to be awarded funding for further pothole repairs and have an additional £3,322,275 from the Pothole Repair Fund.

Northamptonshire was one of a small number of authorities to receive a significantly higher award in recognition of the ongoing initiatives and proactive highway maintenance strategy undertaken in the county.

Cllr Morris said: “We recognise that our roads are not acceptable but we don’t have the funds locally to make a significant impact on this. We’ve stated before that it would take about £100million of investment to bring the network up to a good standard.

“Part of what we do is making representations to central government for more money to bring about road improvements but we also have to be mindful that we’re competing with other authorities for the funds and that government has its own financial pressures.

“However we are very hopeful that our significant efforts to use innovation to find efficiencies will be recognised.”


The county council is always looking at new ways of repairing roads in a cost effective and safe way. New innovations are trialled throughout the year to see if they can be added to existing methods of repair. This year, following trails in 2016, Northamptonshire Highways will be using the Roadmaster which is a single manned vehicle that can be used in more rural areas to repair surface damage. 

Roadmaster allows an area-based approach where an identified road will have all the potholes patched rather than those that only meet the intervention levels, meaning communities will see a much wider areas of repairs in their neighbourhood.

This is a cost effective and controlled way of patching that offers a semi-permanent repair that has been proven to last longer than normal patching.

Information for residents

Where surface dressing is scheduled in residential areas, people will receive a letter through their door notifying them of when the work will take place and asking them to move their vehicles off roads and paths. Advisory signs will also be placed in the streets.

Vehicles, whose presence is preventing or hindering the works taking place, may be relocated to an adjacent street. This will be carried out by an approved contractor and vehicles will be moved within the vicinity, with signs located on the street providing information.

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