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Portfolio Report of the Hon Mr Gavin Short MLA

Portfolio Report and Debate of the Hon Mr Gavin Short MLA

Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, it has been quite a while since I have given a report on the Public Works Department and there has been a fair bit going on since I last reported to the House. Some weeks ago now we had the arrival of a snow shower which snapped the power lines and caused a fair bit of havoc. The crew from the power station worked some long hours in pretty difficult conditions to get customers back online as soon as they could. And I would like to extend my thanks to them for all their hard work on that day.

The street lighting on Ross Road West was also knocked out and the decision was made to tackle this as and when time permitted amongst the other more pressing and urgent things that our small crew has to deal with. I am pleased to say the lights are now back on at that end of town and the 8th of December memorial is once again cheerfully lit up at night.

I believe that we have either advertised (or just about to) for an electrician and a wind farm technician. And if we can fill those two vacancies then we will be in a much happier place. I am advised that we are in a much better position with generator sets at the power station and I extend grateful thanks to everyone involved.

The wind turbines seem to be much loved by everyone including myself as they are quite elegant things but this elegance also means that they are much observed. And should one be spotted to stop whizzing around there seems to be general annoyance. I believe we have one turbine down at the moment and although this does break the symmetry of having all units flapping happily away, I would like to say that we have a number of units that we do to allow for a number of breakdowns and overhauls so if a turbine is not going, it does not mean that the lights are going out.

On a vaguely related subject, if you remember a couple of years ago we had the collapse of a lamp pole on the front road due to not being able to withstand the loading of wet bunting and a slight northern breeze put on them. That was traced to corrosion within the pole itself and a subsequent decision was made that it was not safe to hang the newly imported Christmas lights off them. The search for a new type of lamp pole has been going on for some time now. I know the appearance of Christmas lights means a great deal to some people in Stanley and I am afraid that I bring potentially sad news to the House. We only have so many people employed by us and more urgent tasks are given to them. And the lamp posts for Ross Road were very much put on the back burner. However it looks like we have now found a lamp post which is substantial enough to take bunting and Christmas lights but these may not be here in time to be up and ready for Christmas.

As members will be aware, as part of the re-development of the waterfront, there are plans to put a pedestrian walkway up Victory Green. And it would probably make sense to do both jobs at the same time, providing that is that the walkway gets the green light. If not the poles will be done as a stand-alone project.

The road-works on Ross Road have been progressing slowly. This was due in part to taking the time to separate the surface water and the foul water (sewerage systems) and also a real desire to keep access to the West Store open. We will shortly be opening the east access to the Capstan car park and Dean Street and moving the road-works along, which means the west access to the car-park will be closed. If all goes well, we hope to finish this year’s run on Ross Road in an area to the west of the hair dressers. Whatever happens we will be gone before the first tourist vessel is due to hit town. And I am also happy to report that this project is still within budget.

Weather also played its part with rural roads with the heavy rains of a few weeks ago having a pretty nasty effect on various parts of the network including the causeway over to Long Island which is, of course, a tourist destination. As soon as the dry season returns the roads team will swing into action and effect repairs. Some of these may be of a temporary nature as I believe the causeway may need some larger engineering work to make it more robust to the effects of rains and tides, etc.

We also had a culvert collapse which will be sorted once we can access the roads network with the required machinery. There is an on-going schedule of culvert inspections and replacements. We are very much aware that there are a number of culverts that are getting to the end of their lives and we will be replacing those as and when they need it. It is very much a case of making a judgment call as to when as we only have a finite amount of men and money and hours in the day. And when we are doing one thing other works have to be set aside. But we will get there.

Grading and capping works have been done on the road to Moody Brook west of the old butchery site with a material which it is hoped will cut down on the amount of dust that comes off it during the summer and also down around the bottom of the harbour.

We have reached out to potential contractors looking for expressions of interest and now we have invites out for formal tenders for longer term contracts on both east and west and if all goes well, I think the tender board should sit around the end of September.

Stanley’s roads are starting to show signs of wear and tear in places and once the weather improves we shall be starting a programme of repairs. We have only a very small amount of money for Stanley roads and an accelerated repair and/or resurfacing programme would mean me going back to the budget process cap in hand. I am very much aware that we have a finite amount of cash and any approach for more money for Stanley roads would mean something else being delayed or dropped.

There is money allocated for track improvements to the Lighthouse in this year’s budget. And it was hoped that we may have had enough spare time in PWD to do so much and the rest go out to the private sector but this may be looking a bit shaky as time is going on and we are still waiting for feedback from the Environmental Department. Alas the days when we can just come up with a bulldozer and say: “The Lighthouse is that way – go for it,” are long gone. And since writing this report I believe there is a lively exchange of e-mails between the EPD and the Public Works Department on this matter. Unfortunately it is looking like the initial delay may mean that we no longer have uncommitted manpower this late into the winter season. But I am sure the situation will become clearer over the next couple of days.

The Quarry continues to function well thanks to the dedicated crew that we have out there. It is not one of the most pleasant places to work and I am hopeful that some welfare issues will be sorted out both for the quarry crew and also the roads gangs and, the sooner the better. The new primary crusher is performing extremely well and the front-end loader which arrived not long ago is well up to the task of feeding the brute. The works on the new sand production unit and settling ponds continues and the target date for production is in the first couple of months of next year, which given the trouble that sand extraction at surf bay is causing, it is not going to come on line too soon.

The Quarry is very much demand driven and there are rumours of some quite large orders in the offing. I would urge contractors to give us as much warning as possible please of what they require as if everyone turns up at one time it will have to be on a first come, first served basis, which inevitably leads to some unhappiness. Miricles we can do but the impossible takes us just that little bit longer.

In Sapper Hill Housing, there has so far been little survey work done on loop three. But work will start on this project in earnest in September. We already have a tentative sketched lay-out for the new phase, which given what is known of the topography should work. And this will be used as part of the consultation process which will be run by the EPD. But the detailed design needs more work to be done so it can be progressed. The building of the FIG houses on Sapper Hill is progressing well and looks like it should be completed by the target date.

We are in the final stages of reviewing how we may wish to progress the next phase of FIG housing but then it could be that the decision is taken to go to an open bidding session or an extension of the existing contract.

As I stated in this House some time ago the last season’s grass cutting gave me a few extra ulcers. And I said that I would want to be reassured that we have everything in hand well before the start of this coming season. I can report that we are in conversation with people and I am happy as I can be that at the beginning of this coming season we will have all points covered, which will include the continuation of the town-wide spraying round to combat plant growth in the verges and the seams in the roads and pavements plus keeping the dreaded thistles under control that were proliferating close to the sidewalks.

Activity will have been seen at the Public jetty again with the digger having taken a roost down there. As people will have seen a rather forlorn looking leaning pile from the first attempt is now gone and the digger will be removing some of the infill to allow the barge that will be doing the pile driving to gain access to the first row of piles closest to shore.

Work will also commence on removing part of the “T” piece of the old public jetty to allow the barge access. The start date keeps getting pushed back. We have no control over this as we are waiting the jack-up rig that is currently working at the new floating dock to become available. Once it finishes the pile-driving work down there it will be heading up our way. We are hopeful that it should come steaming up the harbour to start work probably in early October. This, of course, is going to clash with the tourist season and we will stop works on days when there are large amounts of people around – obviously for health and safety reasons.

The work to upgrade St Mary’s Hall so it can be used on an interim basis is underway We have had one or two hairy moments already such as a plasterboard famine in the Falklands but have so far been able to find a solution for every problem that has been encountered. The latest change that we have had to make to our modus operandi was due to local contractors being fully engaged. So we are going to use our very small group of carpenters, etc. from the Municipal Section to do some of the works. The lads will be able to do what is asked of them but it does mean that other works that they were scheduled to do will have to be parked to one side or at the very least slowed down. And I would ask that people be patient during this time. Even with what I have just said we are confident of bringing the project in on time and the two classes should be in the Hall at the time of the Ofsted inspection.

That, Mr Speaker, ends my gallop around the PWD.

MS: Mr Speaker, may I ask the Honourable Gavin Short a brief question about Loop 3 at Sappers Hill? I have seen a sketched design but I hope it is the same one that he has seen that shows a significantly different type of lay-out with a mix of different housing types and sizes that would better suit the demand that we have. Can he confirm that it is the same arrangement and he thinks that will proceed on that basis?

GS: I thank the Honourable Member for his question and I am happy to confirm that this sketch I have seen seems to be the same as you have seen with different lot sizes but also whilst not a complete grid type lay-out with streets with proper corners as opposed to wriggly roads this time. I think as we move into phase three we can at last start looking at a different mixture of houses. I think the first two sections were put there to get first time buyers into the housing and to get people somewhere to live.

I look forward to this new lay-out but it has to go out to public consultation and to a point we will be driven by what comes back from that consultation.

PR: Mr Speaker, thank-you very much Honourable Gavin Short for that report. I would just like to touch on sand production because you and I had a visit to the area where sand is collected locally for construction purposes for making cement. I note that sand production from the quarry won’t be ready until next year. I just wonder if you could reassure me that access to sand where people currently extract it – that is east of Yorke Bay – that there is access so that principle contractors and others can acquire the necessary sand for construction? Because at the end of the day everything is on a cement base and the whole of our construction programme relies on it and I want to be assured we have access to sand until we have the source from the quarry. And of course, when people have to purchase sand from the quarry there will be an additional cost to all that so it will have to be considered and factored in. I wonder if you can brief us on that?

GS: I thank the Honourable Lady for that question. You are correct. We had a visit to Surf Bay with EPD and PWD and the contractor himself. I am afraid that very little has moved forward since then. The contractor has to double handle the sand to get it to a point where it can be picked up in lorries and brought out. I had hoped the problem would have been cured by now. I have written to PWD and copied in EPD asking that this is moved forward if we can When we were putting site roads in down at Marry Hill it would have been a good opportunity to follow it up and done something at that stage but that moment has passed.

Interestingly enough I have been told there was some thought that the sand produced at Pony’s Pass may not have the plasticity required and would need mixing with proper sand but it could be of a standard that we may be able to avoid taking sand from down there completely when it comes on line but we will have to wait and see about that. For my part I hope we can stop taking sand from down there. Unless you actually go there and look, you don’t realise how much of those sand dunes we have carted away. I can see the demand for sand only getting greater as time goes on and not reducing.

To come back to your original question, I hope PWD and EPD will get in touch with the contractor and start talking to him about it.

IH: Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to thank the Honourable Gavin Short for his report and I would like to touch upon roads for a minute. In the past few years one of the things that has been successful has been the spot capping of the worst places on our road system. Given the fact that there would only be grading crews on the West Falklands and no more PWD personnel this coming season, it looks like it may have come to an end. While I definitely welcome the involvement of the private sector for longer periods in the tendering process, I was wondering if the Honourable Gavin Short would indicate if there was any consideration of some flexibility in the tendering and whether there would be any consideration given to the re-introduction or perhaps inclusion of spot capping. I am thinking in particular of the Stony Ridge area on the way to Port Stephens which was on the programme. It is a terrible bit of road and will only get worse. So I wondered if there was any consideration of that.

GS: I thank the Honourable Ian Hansen for his question. Unfortunately I cannot give you an answer on that. I do not know what the details of the tenders are that have gone out – whether that includes scope for spot capping. I can certainly went to that piece of road you are talking about at stony ridge. Having travelled over it you will not get bogged but it will take your axel out or destroy your undercarriage – I agree. At TAC we have asked for the reason why that was never done to be brought back to us because there seems to be a couple of different stories about and we want to get to the bottom of just why that piece was never done and question when will it be done. I will go and ask those questions and come back to all Members with the answers as to whether we will be spot capping. I believe there may be a PWD bloke on the West during next summer. That comes from an exchange I had with PWD and our assistant Road Engineer. I will find out and come back to all of you on this.

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