Highway maintenance

Cumbria County Council has the 4th largest highway network in England with 7,900 km c/way, 4,000 km of footways and cycleways, 145,000 gullies and 45,000 light columns. 

The Council needs to make sure that the highway network is effectively maintained and it is in safe condition for all road users.

A well maintained and well managed highway can contribute towards the Council priorities.

Maintenance processes:

We work hard to keep the county's road drains and 145,000 gullies clean and maintained to help prevent flooding. 

Find out more about flooding and drainage.

The County Council cuts roadside grass to make sure that people can use the roads safely, whilst taking into account environmental and conservation considerations.

We do not cut grass that is not on the highway, for example, grass which is privately owned or on land owned by bodies other than the County Council, for example - parks and public open spaces.

How, when and why?

Roadside verges are cut during the summer season. We cut a strip of verge roughly one metre wide down both sides of the road once during the year, in addition to visibility splays at road junctions. In addition, we take a full width cut of the verge every two or four years to prevent saplings and woody weeds from becoming established. The reasons for cutting the grass are:-

  • Safety
    The strip of short grass opens up visibility along the road, particularly at bends. In addition, cutting back at road junctions improves visibility for joining traffic.  The strip of shorter grass along the road edge provides a "step-off" for pedestrians when vehicles are passing them on narrow roads.
  • Preventative maintenance
    By preventing the establishment of saplings and woody weeds, the structure of the road and associated drainage will not be damaged by roots.
  • Conservation
    Cumbria has some of the most exceptional scenery in the UK, and the roadside verges play a part in this.  The roadside verges form important links between areas of unimproved land enabling movement of wildlife.  Verges with short grass by the road edge, graduating to higher plants at the boundary provide food and shelter for a wide range of species.

Why are the verges cut at different times?

Each verge has been surveyed and classified according to the botanical content. The cutting times are based on these classifications, and are intended to allow the seeds to set. Some verges are cut early in the year and some later in July through to September.

  • Flower rich verges are generally cut later in the year
  • Other types may require an earlier cut
  • Every four years a full width cut is made late in the year to prevent woody weeds and saplings from growing. This cut is mainly for scrub control to protect the fabric of the road, but it also protects the flower richness of the verge by removing those plants that would shade them out. On "special" verges, this happens every two years
  • Over 600 "special" verges have their cuttings removed to reduce fertility and prevent a build-up of mat vegetation, and so encourage a greater diversity of wildflowers 
  • The county council keeps the classifications of verges under review and will revise cutting times as necessary
  • Contractors work from maps showing which verges to cut and when
  • Cumbria Wildlife Trust volunteers monitor the condition of the verges and carry out botanical surveys.

Common ragwort is a plant that is dangerous to livestock which eats it, as it causes liver damage. All land managers are under a duty to control this plant if it grows on their land, as the parachute seeds can be carried on the wind for considerable distances and contaminate pastureland. The county council takes action to control this plant when informed of specific locations where it is growing. It is usual to pull or spray the plant to prevent it spreading.

Roadside verges in Cumbria (PDF 2.5MB)

Cumbria County Council can investigate obstructions on the pavement and either make safe or arrange for their removal. Such obstructions include:

street work or roadworks (with or without barriers)

  • skips
  • scaffolds
  • hoardings
  • advertising boards, if blocking the pavement
  • building materials
  • banners or bunting
  • hedges or trees

Some obstructions may need legal action to be taken to remove them.  This process can take months to complete. Any obstruction considered to be dangerous will be removed as soon as possible.

Report an obstruction online, or call the Cumbria County Council Hotline - 0300 303 2992. The Hotline number is charged at local rate.  When calling the Hotline please be prepared with details of the problem and its precise location.

Cumbria County Council has responsibility for the maintenance of highways, including pavements or footways, except for motorways, trunk roads and minor urban roads in Carlisle.

Trip hazards on pavements are a key concern at all times whilst the problems of standing water and ice tend to be more seasonal. Trip hazards and other defects on pavements are identified through inspections and other means, including reports from the public.

Maintenance standards for footways and cycleways do not necessarily reflect the classification of any adjacent road. They are determined by the amount of pedestrian usage and by local factors.

A hierarchy of footways and cycleways has been identified for the county as recommended by the Local Authority Association 'Code of Practice'. The hierarchy reflects the level of use and other local factors and all pavements have been placed into appropriate levels of the hierarchy.

The following defects in footways are normally categorised as Category 1 defects:

  • Dangerously rocking paving slabs
  • Projections greater than 20mm high (including manhole frames, boxes etc)
  • Cracks or gaps between flags greater than 20mm wide and more than 20mm deep
  • Isolated potholes

Category 1 defects are those which are dangerous or potentially dangerous and which require prompt attention. They are sub-divided into immediate, one working day and five working day categories, depending on their severity and location. For defects which are not considered dangerous, the level and speed of response will vary depending on the position of the footway in the hierarchy, the budget available and the scale and location of the defect.

Growth of weeds is generally prevented by weed spraying, but individual problems are dealt with by specific action.

Standing water can be prevented by reshaping the surface, and ice is treated as part of winter maintenance operations.

Pavements, particularly those constructed of paving slabs, can suffer very badly from overriding vehicles.

Please note: In the case of damage, it is important, if possible, to report the vehicle details/findings so that the council can recover the full cost of repairs to the pavement from the person responsible for causing the damage.

When works are being undertaken on the highway (including the pavement/footway), the organisation carrying out those works, generally a utility company, is responsible for the safety of pedestrians during the works. They must ensure, where necessary, -that there is a safe diversionary route and that the highway is reinstated to a prescribed standard. All utilities must provide an information board at every site so that complaints and queries can reach the responsible organisation.

We encourage you to report a problem on a footway or pavement online, or call the Cumbria County Council Hotline - 0300 303 2992. The Hotline number is charged at local rate.  When calling the Hotline please be prepared with details of the defect and its precise location.

Potholes are a problem which can occur almost anywhere, particularly in late winter and early spring, when the road network has been subjected to freezing and thawing cycles. Deep potholes are the type of defect which require an urgent response, as they are a potential danger. We aim to have such deep potholes repaired or made safe within one working day, or five working days on minor rural roads.

Whenever possible, we carry out permanent repairs by cutting out the affected area around the pothole, sealing the sides of the hole, filling it with hot bitumen macadam and compacting the material with a roller or vibrating plate. This involves a considerable amount of equipment, so it is not always possible to be in the right place to carry out a full repair immediately on every urgent pothole. When this is not possible, we use cold material as an emergency measure and aim to go back to carry out a permanent repair in the near future, when the right gang are working in the area. Emergency repairs are not as effective as permanent ones and sometimes fail, so repeat visits are sometimes necessary.

In addition to repairing potholes, we carry out programmed patching work so that the road is prepared for surface dressing in the coming years. An inspector will walk the section of road and mark out the areas which are cracked, crazed and generally worn out and require attention with spray paint before the repair work starts on site. These sections are then cut out and carefully replaced with new material. Once a length of road has been thoroughly patched, it will probably be surface dressed within a couple of years.

Report a pothole

 Title  Date  Size
19/06/2020 29k
19/06/2020 42k
19/06/2020 45k
25/01/2022 111k

Working in partnership with our contractor Kiely Brothers Ltd, we will be surface dressing 82 stretches of road (a total of 123 miles/197km) across the county in 2022. For further information on the timing of these works please follow us on twitter @cumbriahighways

Surface dressing programme:

The programme for each area can be found here.

Surface dressing programme for each area:


Surface dressing is a coating of bitumen and stone that seals the road surface, improves its texture and extends its life. Any defects, such as pot holes, are repaired first. It's a three-step process that is quicker and more cost effective than other road maintenance techniques, causing less disruption for residents and road users. Find out more about the surface dressing process.  

If your road is affected you will receive a leaflet through the door, up to three days before work commences. Surface dressing leaflet (PDF 2MB)

Information signs will also be placed in the area of works two weeks prior to commencement. Please do not leave your vehicle on the road or verge when work is due to begin as this will cause delays.

This process is weather dependent so notified works may have to be re-scheduled at short notice. 

What you need to do if your road is being surface dressed:

Before work

  • please ensure any vehicle belonging to you or your visitors are removed from the road by 7am on the day of work
  • on-street parking will not be possible during works, other than for very short durations
  • vehicle access to your home may be restricted while the equipment is working near your property.

During work

  • please do not drive or walk over newly laid material until the operation has been completed. This can mark vehicles and driveways. Wet bitumen will stick to your shoes and could be carried on to carpets and floors in your home or car
  • please keep your pets indoors
  • please drive slowly and with care while travelling through the site and keep to temporary speed limits, to protect both workers and your vehicle
  • follow the guidance of operatives
  • you will be able to access your home on foot throughout the works. Check your shoes before entering your home or car
  • the work may take more than one day to complete. Please be prepared to ensure the road is kept clear of vehicles the following day.

After work

  • with care, you can drive on the road immediately after surface dressing has been completed
  • the road will be swept of loose chippings after 24 hours and again about a week later
  • for a short time, particularly if the weather is warm, there may be small areas of bitumen that are still soft. Please take great care.

Beware of cold callers 

Our contractors will only be carrying out work for Cumbria County Council. They will never offer to do any private work, such as resurfacing driveways. If you're approached by anyone offering to surface your driveway, and claiming that they are working for Cumbria County Council, please report them by contacting telephone number  03454 04 05 06

For information and works updates follow us on twitter @CumbriaHighways


Frequently Asked Questions


What is surface dressing?

Surface dressing is preventative work to significantly extend a road's life. It costs significantly less than full resurfacing and means that more money is available to invest in resurfacing where it is most needed.

Surface dressing will seal the surface of the road, to prevent water seeping in which helps the deterioration of the road surface and ensures that the road surface texture will have adequate grip and skid resistance. 


How do you surface dress a road?

We spray the existing road surface with a coating of hot bitumen (a tar like substance), then spread stone chippings on top. The chippings are then lightly rolled and pressed into the bitumen to form an interlocking surface. Once the bitumen has set, we will sweep the road to remove any loose chippings. This will usually be done after 24 hours, 7 days and 28 days later. During hot weather this may take longer.


Can traffic use the new road surface?

Traffic is allowed onto the new surface, at a reduced speed, to help push down the chippings into the road. The action of traffic soon begins to bed down the chips, forming a stable and hard-wearing new surface. We then complete a final sweep after seven days.

It is important to keep to the temporary speed limits of 20mph and avoid sharp turns. This allows the surface to stabilise and prevents any damage to your vehicle.

Surface dressing provides added protection to the carriageway surface, as well as enhancing the skid resistance, making it safer to drive on.


What's the difference between surface dressing and resurfacing?

Surface dressing is a preventative maintenance technique, for roads which are in relatively good condition opposed to resurfacing which is a form of re-construction. 

Surface dressing can last around ten years, roads can be re-dressed up to three times, and is very cost effective. Also, the work is done relatively quickly, minimising the inconvenience for residents and motorists. Treating the road surface before the onset of major deterioration, can lead to criticism that there was nothing wrong with the road in the first place; however, surfaces are assessed annually by Highways Engineers to determine whether any maintenance is required. This ensures that roads are not unnecessarily treated

Resurfacing is a more extensive structural maintenance treatment which involves digging down and removing the top layer of a worn-out road surface and replacing this with new material. Resurfacing is around five times more expensive than surface dressing - 200 miles of roads can be surface dressed for the cost of resurfacing 40 miles.


Does surface dressing create a noisier road?

Surface dressing can produce a little more tyre noise than some other road surface treatments. This noise will reduce in time as chippings are embedded into the surface.

We cannot always use quieter treatments because, in many situations, a good road surface texture and excellent skid resistance are crucial for the safety of road users and outweigh the need for reduced noise.


Why are we surface dressing a road that was only resurfaced a few years ago?

Many surface dressing schemes are carried out as 'lifecycle' schemes, due to some surface materials having a lifespan of only seven years before they may let in water, which can lead to deterioration and increase the likelihood of potholes. Surface dressing reseals and waterproofs these surfaces, preventing this deterioration and extending the road life for up to a further 10 years.


Are there any circumstances that will stop this work taking place?

This type of work is weather dependent and bad weather means the work will be rescheduled. If we're unable to work on the date specified, please keep the road clear of vehicles the following working day.


How will I know if my street is going to be surface dressed?


Signage will be placed to say that the work will be starting on the roads. Our contractor will send you a notification letter in advance of work starting and all information can be found on our website. This will include: 

  • how can you access your property during the works?
  • if any road closures or diversions are needed
  • what the expected start and finish dates during the weeks work

In the event of bad weather, surface dressing may be delayed.


My family owns and parks several cars on the street. Will there still be space for us to park?


You will have to remove the vehicles if your street if it is being surface dressed. The letter you will receive will say when your vehicles will need to be off the road and for how long. We rely on people co-operating with us during the works. This helps us to avoid delays and extra expense. No one has a legal right to park on a road regardless of lines or boxes.


Will I still be able to get to my driveway while the road is being surfaced dressed?

For safety reasons, roads that are due for surface dressing must be completely closed to traffic during this time. This means there will be no access to the roads during this time. You will be able to access your home on foot. There are only a few exceptions.

  • Vehicles being used by emergency services or statutory undertakers to perform their duties 
  • An action taken with a police officer's permission or direction
  • If it is safe, pedestrians should have access to any premises adjacent to or on the roads, or any other premises that are accessible to pedestrians only from the roads.
  • Work-related vehicles.

Unfortunately, vehicles (including cycles) are not allowed to enter the road closure under any other circumstances.

Due to this method of road repair and the necessary road closures, delays cannot be avoided. We appreciate your cooperation, and our contractor's teams will give you access as soon as it is safe to do so.


When should I remove my car from the road?

Please ensure any vehicle belonging to you or your visitors are removed from the road by 7am on the day of work - thank you.


When will the road markings be replaced?

Road markings can only be replaced after the final sweep has taken place which can be a few weeks after the works. Where needed, temporary signs are put in place reminding the public that road markings have been removed.


What happens to all the surplus chippings, once they have been swept from the carriageway?

The surplus chippings are taken to the central chipping dump, regraded, and washed to remove dust and dirt prior to being reused the following season. All residual waste is recycled. A total of 10,000 tonnes of aggregate are processed and reused each year.


Is there any other advice you can give?

  • Be Safety Aware - follow signs and instructions from site operatives.
  • Please do not drive on newly laid surface until it has had time to set. If in doubt operatives on site will provide guidance when the surface is suitable to use. If they have left the road, it will be suitable for use.
  • Please pay attention to advisory signs and please do not park on the road when signs request you not to.
  • Drivers - please keep to the temporary speed limits and avoid sharp turns to allow the surface to stabilise.
  • Please keep pets indoors while this work takes place
  • Please check your shoes (and your pet's paws) before entering your home or car. 
  • Bitumen stains can be removed with cleaner.
  • Accesses to businesses will be protected. Temporary floor covering is recommended in shops and offices
  • Pedestrian access to your property will be maintained throughout the works.


Thank you again for your patience and understanding, while we improve the roads in Cumbria.

The theft of paving stones or flags and iron works like manhole covers and gully grates is a criminal offence.  Not only does it have a financial impact on our resources it can create very dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Although is it extremely rare in Cumbria it has to be attended to without delay.

If you notice missing stones or iron works then please let us know the precise location by telephoning the Cumbria County Council Hotline (0300 303 2992).  We will attend the site as soon as possible to make it safe.  If you see the stones being taken then do not approach the people involved.  Makes notes about the vehicle type, registration number and the people involved.  Telephone the Police immediately 101.