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‘Dragon patchers’ being used to repair Devon’s network of rural roads

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Highways teams are using ‘dragon patchers’ and working double shifts to make the most of the dry weather and repair as many potholes on smaller, rural roads this summer as possible.

Devon County Council (DCC) currently has four dragon patchers which can repair potholes quickly by using layers of ‘spray’, consisting of a stone mix and hot bitumen emulsion, to ‘build up’ potholes.

Last week Councillor Stuart Hughes, DCC’s Cabinet Member for Highways Management,

From left; Two dragon patcher crew members, Selaine Saxby, Cllr John Hart, Cllr Hughes

DCC Leader Cllr John Hart and MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby had the chance to see a dragon patcher up close repairing a rural road.

Nicknamed ‘dragon patchers’ because they can dry out potholes using flames before the material is laid, they are predominantly being used on smaller, rural roads where more conventional treatment methods, such as surface dressing, can’t be carried out.

Devon has 8,000 miles of roads, more than any other county, and because many are narrow, using usual traffic management can cause delays.

However, because dragon patchers are mobile the impact on motorists and other road users is reduced.

Each machine requires just two crew members to operate it – crew generally work double shifts during the summer months to take advantage of the extended daylight hours and the dryer weather. This enables more repairs to be carried out, faster.

In a typical shift a dragon patcher can lay up to five tonnes of stone ‘aggregate’ and several hundred litres of emulsion. Crews not only focus on existing road defects but also aim to prevent further damage by carrying out preventative repairs.

The treatment also seals the surface of roads from water, reducing damage to the road’s surface when it rains. Dragon patching can help to make roads that are currently not suitable for surface dressing suitable again, by improving the overall surface condition in advance.

Roads targeted for repair by dragon patcher are selected using a mix of pothole ‘hot spot’ data, the local knowledge of neighbourhood highways teams and by asking communities what their priorities are.

Cllr Stuart Hughes said: “Maintaining Devon’s thousands of miles of smaller rural

Photo of Councillor Stuart Hughes
Councillor Stuart Hughes

roads is a real challenge and these dragon patchers have made a real difference.

“It’s enabled us to carry out repairs very quickly, with good longevity to an excellent standard.

“And where a road surface has deteriorated beyond individual, isolated potholes, the dragon patcher is proving to be a much more cost-effective way to repair roads when compared to conventional methods of pothole repair.

“There is also the added benefit that because these are effectively mobile works there is reduced disruption to road-users.”