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Drones trialled above Kent Showground to see if they could help Kent County Council spot potholes and speed up road maintenance

Drones are being trialled by Kent County Council to make spotting problems on the roads, such as potholes, quicker and easier.

The gadgets could also be used to detect issues with trees and street lights and ensure Kent's highways department has a regular and better understanding of the condition of the county's streets.

Drones could be seen whizzing about Kent Showground today. Video: Kent County Council

Two drones were flown over the Kent Showground in Detling today during the third stage of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) trial carried out by the council alongside partner Amey plc.

It will look at how effective the technology can be for highway inspections so it can potentially be used more widely by comparing the images with others taken at the same site last month and before Christmas.

Highways project manager, Carol Valentine, says this is the initial stage to see whether the cameras can pick up movement on the carriageway and problems such as pot holes.

However, even if all future trials go to plan, it will probably be quite a while before we see the high-tech machines whizzing above our roads.

Mrs Valentine said: "There are many, many legal restrictions on what we can use drones for at the moment. But once we have completed the trials and have our data, we can then work with national bodies to lobby some changes."

She highlighted there could be several major benefits to the use of drones.

She said: "Their use could definitely save money, if we can save sending people out. It will also have health and safety and environmental benefits.

"Plus, it would make it much easier to find problems on large, high-speed roads where it isn't so easy just to get out of a car and look."

She added: "But we have got to be aware of the risks and we are of course conscious of people's privacy. Today, the drones were flying above the showground so they were not over peoples' houses or gardens."

Cabinet member for highways and transport, Michael Payne, said: "This is an exciting opportunity for Kent, allowing us to have a much better understanding of the condition of our roads and assets across the county.

"With this new eye-in-the-sky technology we could have a quick and clear idea of what needs to be done, and where."

"For instance, rather than us having to drive around looking for issues or arrange to clamber up bridges, we can use the drone to quickly and easily spot any problems we might face.

"And rather than setting up traffic management and diversions to do an inspection, we can simply put a drone in the air – meaning Kent Highways staff can be freed up for other projects.

"With this new eye-in-the-sky technology we could have a quick and clear idea of what needs to be done, and where, meaning we will have the information at our fingertips rather than people simply reporting problems to us online.

“Ultimately, this will lead to residents having a better experience on Kent’s roads."

KCC is responsible for the inspection and maintenance of 5,400 miles of road and 4,000 miles of footpaths; along with 122,000 street lights, 500,000 trees, 250,000 drains and 2,200 bridges.

Each year, the council has more than 100,000 enquiries about highways.

To help manage the huge workload more efficiently, the council has secured £2 million funding from the Department of Transport as part of a scheme called Live Labs, which will see the introduction of digital innovation across multiple sectors including transport, highways and communications, and includes the drone trials.

Another initiative which could be trialled in the Live Labs scheme are sensors and cameras being fitted to council cars to pick up road problems while driving along.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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