Shropshire Council gives upbeat update on its huge investment in Shrewsbury shopping centres

Shropshire Council has made a lot of controversial decisions. Many have reduced help for those that most need it. The council has also focussed on Oswestry and Shrewsbury at the expense of rural areas. That’s why it decided to spend £51 million to buy three shopping centres in closed session in January 2018. It has been a mixed picture since with some new retail units opening but a general trend of store closures and rent reductions. More taxpayer’s money is to be invested in improving the stores in a climate of declining high streets. The council continued to justify its biggest ever purchase at a meeting last week, claiming that the shopping centres have a rosy future. I hope so but the council could have better invested our money in improving the social fabric of the county by building desperately needed council houses. And I have doubts that the council can succeed when retail companies can’t make many high streets work.

Shropshire Council cut £10 million a year from its highways budget. It said this cut would be reversed when the shopping centres generate enough income. That doesn’t look likely any time soon as the shopping centres generate a pre-tax income of under £1 million.

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Shropshire Council’s management of highways challenged by whistleblower – questions about performance and monitoring to be asked tomorrow

Shropshire Council’s highways contract with Kier is not hitting many of its performance targets. The council is making the usual excuses. The weather was bad. Err, welcome to Shropshire. It pleads there were teething problems with the contract. Keir has a turnover of £4.5 billion. Shropshire Council has a budget above half a billion. How come these giants struggle to introduce a highways contract that costs £21m a year?

A whistleblower has submitted evidence that Shropshire Council does not properly monitor its highway contractors, Kier and WSP. The whistleblower, a Senior Quantity Surveyor who worked as a contractor for the council, said his complaints were not investigated. That’s a contravention of the council’s whistleblowing policy. Questions are to be asked in a council committee tomorrow.

The quality of Shropshire’s highways affects everyone. In 2018/19, 12% of the county’s B and C roads needed maintenance, well above the national average of 5%. It is time to stop making excuses. It is time to ensure that council taxpayers get bangs for their bucks. It is time to end the bangs and bucking people experience travelling on the county’s rural and urban roads.  

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New petition to put the emergency into Shropshire Council’s climate emergency – it needs 1,000 signatures to trigger a council debate

In May, Shropshire Council agreed to follow the lead of councils around the country and declare a climate emergency. But the council leader would not allow councillors to set a deadline for the council or the county becoming carbon neutral. The result was a declaration of a climate emergency without any sense of emergency.

A petition from Shewsbury Friends of the Earth published on the council website today calls on the council to achieve net carbon zero emissions from the council’s activities by 2030. It is vital that the council achieves carbon neutrality by 2030. That will contribute towards the future of the planet. It will also to show civic leadership towards employers and businesses across the county and encourage them to put future carbon neutrality at the core of their business plans.

I urge everyone to sign this petition. If it gains 1,000 signatures in the next few weeks, it will be debated in the council chamber on 12 December.

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Shropshire Council allows felling of three trees on Chandlers Close – it wants replacement trees – but refuses permission to fell two more

Housing association Connexus had applied to fell five trees on Chandlers Close, off Lower Galdeford. Its view, and that of residents, was that the trees threatened properties, paths and a wall bordering the Ludlow Mascall Centre. Shropshire Council says that the two trees reported as threatening the wall are not a threat. It is the maintenance of the wall that is the issue. It accepts, it seems to me reluctantly, that the three trees near properties must be felled as they have grown to a size where they are difficult to manage on this site. It is urging Connexus to replace the trees. I agree with that.

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Shropshire Council is consulting on the future of its library services – I fear for mobile library services

Shropshire Council’s Library services were reviewed two years ago. The conclusion of that review was that three tiers of library would be established: Tier 1 Library Hubs in Shrewsbury and larger market towns, including Ludlow; Tier 2 Community Libraries in the smaller market towns such as Church Stretton; and Tier 3 Community Libraries in smaller market towns such as Craven Arms. Rural areas would be served by mobile libraries with 281 stops in all.

The new library strategy was to last for five years. But just two years into its implementation, Shropshire Council has announced another review. The council does not give a straightforward reason for the review. Rather, it says “we identified the need for a refreshed strategy that offers a robust vision with clear priorities for the library service of the future.” Given how stretched staff are within the council, and how stretched its finances are, it is inevitable that people are wondering whether the review presages another round of cuts. Otherwise why allocate so much staff time?

The council says it is committed to retaining the three tier library structure. But it hasn’t said it is committed to keeping mobile libraries. There will be a drop in session in Ludlow Library from 10am to 3pm next Wednesday, 9 October.

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