Yesterday, contractors drove 200 miles from Norwich to resurface Dinham and Linney. That’s despite the council’s commitment to using local contractors and to becoming carbon neutral. The works also began on a day when King Street was closed and pubs and cafes reopened. The work was four days later than scheduled. No one in Shirehall seemed to know this was happening. Or of they did, they didn’t care about the disruption to traffic and trade on the most important day for Ludlow this year.
This work was not necessary. The residents of Dinham and Linney don’t think the work should have been done. But a mile away, Parys Road is collapsing. The recent patching on this road will not survive next winter.
This problem is not about broken roads. It is about a broken highways operation in Shropshire Council. The council has embarrassed itself this weekend. But I don’t think it cares so much as a pothole.
I was listening to an old episode of the Navy Lark early yesterday morning. The pattern of the comedy was familiar. As the crew of HMS Troutbridge approached the dock, Sub Lieutenant (Leslie) Phillips shouted in desperation, “Left hand down a bit”. Moments later, Chief Petty Officer (Jon) Pertwee cried, “Ev’rybody down!” The inevitable and all too familiar sound of Troutbridge crashing into the dock followed. “Now how did that happen?” Sub Lt Phillips muttered.
Shortly afterwards, my social media was abuzz. Another comedy shipwreck was underway. Shropshire Council’s highways crew had decided to close Dinham and Linney for resurfacing on the same day that King Street was closed for social distancing. No notice was given to councillors or residents. The work had been scheduled for last Wednesday. The job was shifted without notice to Saturday. Super Saturday.
Shropshire Council’s highways contractor Kier must have known that King Street was to be closed on Saturday. It must have known that many businesses were to reopen on Saturday and needed the footfall they have been missing since March. But perhaps it did not. Kier is a struggling construction giant. It’s desperately cutting costs. It’s hugely centralised in its operations. That’s why when it could not do the resurfacing work as scheduled on Wednesday, Keir decided it should bring in a subcontracting crew on a four hour journey from Norwich.
Whether Shropshire Council knew this work was to begin yesterday is not known. Council officers and leaders have taken a vow of silence. They have not responded to emails and calls made over the weekend.
I am sure that when they do respond I know they will say the work needed doing. It didn’t need doing. The quiet tarmac surface worked well on Dinham and Linney. Now residents will have to put up with the noise of traffic over a stone grit surface, not the quieter noise from the previous surface which had few imperfections.
Shropshire Council highways operation has been a wreck since 2009, the year the council was established. Council leaders have been obsessed by the political dogma that only the private sector can deliver highways work economically, effectively and efficiently. Their political obsession has delivered our county a disservice. Over the last decade, road maintenance contractors have consistently failed to deliver their contracts. It is time for the council to bring routine highways maintenance back in house.
I doubt council leaders will be embarrassed by this. They care little about trade in Ludlow. It does care about the state of the roads across the county which it has neglected for years. It boasts about repairing potholes. This was enabled by a government handout. Shropshire Council doesn’t mention very often that it has cut the highways budget by £10 million in the last two years.
It is time Shropshire Council bought routine management of highways back inhouse. It is time to end the broken two tier system. Council and Kier. Managers are employed by Kier to make the work happen. Shropshire Council employs managers and inspectors to ensure the work happens at the right time and to specification. It is time we got rid of two layers of management. It is time we went back to using local contractors to do local work.
And it is time that we brought some common sense back into highways maintenance.