As Britain’s roads came under attack from some of the worst weather conditions for over century, Simon Turner, sales director at Wrekin Products, talks to Highways Magazine about how preventative maintenance is a vital defence against street ironwork deterioration and subsequent road damage.
Britain’s roads have never been in such a poor state. The Government is putting pressure on councils to make repairs, forcing them to sign a pledge setting out how many potholes they will repair this year as they bid for additional funds from Whitehall.
In 2010 Britain experienced the coldest December since Met Office records began in 1910 with heavy snowfall, low temperatures and widespread travel disruption. Just three years later highway authorities’ efforts to repair damaged roads were thwarted by the wettest winter since Met Office national series records began. The freak flooding that followed ruined vast stretches of road surface.
On top of the damage to roads caused by the weather, the theft of street ironwork for scrap metal value has become a serious issue for councils. In a survey conducted by The Local Government Association in 2012, nine out of ten councils were affected by metal theft.
Last year alone authorities spent almost £91m on fixing potholes according to the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM survey. The total Government investment in road maintenance is now over £1bn for 2013-14.
Additional funding is crucial in tackling the blight of potholes and deterioration of manhole covers and drains in our road network. However dealing with some of the underlying problems within planned maintenance will ease the strain on budgets in the long term by reducing street ironwork failure and potholes.
The choice of ironwork and drainage products can have a significant impact on maintenance cycles. The 2010 and 2012 reports on street ironwork by the Water Research Council (WRc) demonstrate that premature failure of manhole covers is a major contributory factor in road surface damage, with over 70,000 foul water covers needing replacement every year at a cost of around £40M.
Wrekin Products designed its Unite manhole cover to improve lifetime performance. Working with major utilities such as Thames Water, Unite was developed to increase the stiffness of the cover and frame, distribute load more effectively and resist lateral forces. This overcame the inadequacies of the BS EN 124 design requirement for manhole covers. Unite has a patented textured surface on the underside of the frame flanges and unique features of the frame that combat the propensity for mortar crack propagation, greatly increasing lifetime performance. The design of the Unite manhole cover is sympathetic to the varying qualities of installation, helping to reduce the risk of failure from workmanship related issues.
There are well over 100,000 Unite manhole covers in service across the heavily trafficked UK highways network. In nine years of use they have provided significant savings in maintenance costs across the infrastructure of a number of utilities organisations including Scottish Water, Severn Trent Water, Amey plc and Thames Water. Wrekin Products has recently been awarded a five year framework agreement by Yorkshire Water, supplying Unite manhole covers within the contract.
This ethos of improving whole-of-life product performance has also driven the development of Wrekin Products’ patented Tri-Way anti-theft gully grate. Its three-point suspension is the most stable design possible where a locking captive hinge is required to cut the risk of theft.
Making the best use of product development in manholes covers and gully grates has the effect of spanning replacement cycles. The improved performance reduces damage caused to the road by product failure and cuts the number of replacement units required in the longer term. With the price of replacing a manhole cover estimated to be £1000, this multiple cost saving will help authorities get back on track with planned maintenance.