Welcome to Shropshire in 2019. Severn Trent Water arrived without notice to block off the Bullring at the top of Corve Street just after 9am this morning. The work was declared an emergency so no notice was given to Shropshire Council or anyone else. But it was only a leaky stopcock. Buses stopped. People missed their trains. I learnt that the only way that one bit of Shropshire Highways can contact another bit of Shropshire Highways is to ring the customer call centre and wait for up to forty minutes to get connected. You couldn’t make it up.
After two-and-a-half hours the blockade was lifted. Despite the disruption. no work had been done whatsoever. Things can only get better. But I am not holding my breath.
I was planning a day off and had popped into town for a few essentials. As the bus drove up Old Street, I could hear the bus driver talking about the road closed signs ahead. I am informed about all planned roadworks and could not recall this one. I used my phone to check the public database at roadworks.org. No mention. The town was already getting gridlocked so we hopped off the bus early and I strolled to Old Street.
Town councillor Glen Ginger was already on the case. He was on his mobile and so was I.
The contractors were very helpful. They could not work out why the work was not scheduled overnight or on a Sunday. But they are not in charge. They were just doing what it said on their worksheet.
I rang Shropshire Council’s streetworks team. They confirmed they were unaware of the works. Then one of those “only in Shropshire moments” happened. I asked the highways officer for the number of the person who manages utility works on behalf of the county. With evident frustration, she replied that she could not provide that or make a direct call. If she was to ring him, she would have to go through the central switchboard.
Let me pass that by you again. An officer sitting in a council office needs to ring someone in the same department but must go through the whole sequence of “If you require so and so, press one…”. They must then wait for forty minutes for someone to answer the phone with no guarantee that you get the right person. You couldn’t make it up.
As this was going on, passengers were struggling to find a bus. I spoke to Minsterley Motors who said they would use the Applegreen garage as a turning point so they could still serve the supermarkets and GPs. The situation with the 292 to Kidderminster was more confused. A man from R&B appeared and announced the bus would be departing from Galdeford. He went off followed by two elderly ladies who were desperate to catch a train from Kidderminster station. But the R&B agent apparently hopped on the bus and it roared away, leaving our good citizens behind. They had lost the cost of their rail tickets and were fuming.
Then Severn Trent decided to lift their blockade of Ludlow. The road had been blocked for two hours. Not a stroke of work was done.
Shropshire Council later confirmed that the work was unscheduled. For emergency work, a utility company only needs to inform the council two hours after the work has started. Severn Trent made that call at 10.25am, an hour after the road was blocked.
Stopping leaks is very important. Severn Trent loses 43 million litres of water a day through leaks and in May 2018 was reported to have paid £2 million in fines as a result. But Severn Trent cannot be a law unto itself. Like all of us, it has a responsibility to ensure that traffic flows, especially public transport. Today it failed in that duty.