More people will trip on Ludlow’s pavements and end up in hospital. More cyclists will be tipped into the carriageway. More cars will have their wheels wrecked.
These are just a few of the consequences of a proposed new policy for highway repairs, which Shropshire Council slipped out for consultation without so much as a press release.
I have no doubt these policies will come in. Shropshire Council is beholden to the motor car. And it has cut back the highways budget so severely that reductions in the repair schedule are inevitable.
For months, we have been bombarded with bullish press releases from Shropshire Council about its work on repairing potholes. First it gloated about receiving almost £1.86m from the Department for Transport for pothole repairs. It puffed that it was “working flat out to deal with high number of potholes.” Special lorries are being brought into the county to deal with the plague of potholes. The media were even sent a very contrived photograph of councillors staring down a rather shallow pothole near Broseley. But I can find no trace of a press release announcing that it plans to cut back on pothole maintenance.
The consultation, which runs to until 23 August, is asking for views on a new risk-based approach to highways repair. This translates as the higher the risk, the quicker the repair. This is in line with national best practice guidelines. But make no mistake, the new policy is also designed to ensure that Shropshire Council’s highways works within its severely reduced budget. The cash for repairs, minor works and road safety schemes was cut by £5 million last April and will be cut by a further £5 million next April.
Shropshire Council has a minimum intervention level for a defect of 25mm deep for carriageways. If it is 24mm deep it won’t get dealt with unless a very specific risk is identified.
This covers potholes, manhole covers and broken road surfaces. The council is not proposing to change this. But response times for many road defects will increase. Smaller potholes are currently repaired within five days. This will increase to up to 28 days. Some problems on minor roads will not be repaired at all unless officers deem them to be a risk.
The council currently has a minimum intervention level of 10mm deep or up for footways and cycleways. Unless a paving slab pokes up by more than a centimetre at present, it is unlikely to be repaired. The council wants to increase this to 20mm.
This is not a policy that supports sustainable transport policies. This is a consultation focused on cars and trucks.
There is no recognition that cyclists also use roads and that potholes are especially dangerous for them. There is no acknowledgement that the pavements repairs policy will mean more people will fall in towns like Ludlow, which has the oldest population in the county. The council has not issued an equalities assessment to accompany the consultation. I see no evidence that it has considered the impact on vulnerable people.
There is no realistic hope of restoring the cut of £10 million to highways budget. Council leaders say the cuts will be reversed when the Shrewsbury shopping centres boom. A turnabout on highways funding will happen if the tens of millions being spent on improvements to the buildings and computer systems at Shirehall make huge savings. I am not holding my breath on either of these projects delivering actual cash that can be rerouted into the highways budget.
The council has already announced a staff recruitment freeze. It is struggling to keep within its budget this year and needs to make deeper cuts in coming years.
What must happen is that the government provides a fairer funding formula that does not discriminate against rural areas. But Shropshire council leaders refuse to criticise Tory ministers who have their eyes firmly on the home counties and ignore very rural areas like Shropshire.
Until that happens, it will be bump, crash and injury on the highways and pavements in this county.