Bring on Le Tour Cotswolds!

Two leading county figures are calling for a Cotswolds stage in a future Tour De France.

Le Tour Cotswolds

With the country gripped by cycling fever as the famous race winds its way around Yorkshire, a bold bid could mean we see the same scenes in Gloucestershire soon.

Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood has joined forces with Lib Dem Leader in the Cotswolds Paul Hodgkinson in writing to Tour organisers. They are inviting cycling bosses to consider having a Cotswolds leg of the Tour in the next few years.

Cllr Hodgkinson, would-be MP for the Cotswolds and a keen cyclist, says the area’s unique scenery would provide a perfect backdrop to the race:

“My vision is for the Tour to start in Chipping Campden, racing down the Fosse Way through Moreton, Stow and Bourton before going through the historic towns of Northleach and Cirencester. Moving on to Tetbury and the hills of Minchinhampton what a superb advert for the Cotswolds this would be.

“The potential for tourist business is enormous. Shops in Yorkshire have already seen takings going through the roof whilst 1.5 million people lined the route. There’s no reason why we can’t replicate and better what is happening so successfully in Yorkshire right now.”

Mr Horwood feels Cheltenham would be a fantastic location to end the race:

“The Promenade lends itself to a great sprint to the finish line. Can you imagine the boost to the town it would give? The TV images would provide a real show case for the area and be a great event for us all to enjoy.

“With 3 billion TV viewers tuning in it could give the county a tremendous boost and really show off its character.”

In the letter to Tour organisers, the two men will invite them to see the area for themselves and understand the benefits of ‘Le Tour Cotswolds’.

Unanimous Support Given to Call to Improve Ambulance Response Times

A Liberal Democrat motion calling for urgent improvements to ambulance response times was debated and supported unanimously at Gloucestershire County Council yesterday.

ambulance rushing

The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) continual failure to meet their 75% target in responding to ‘Red’ calls within 8 minutes in four out of six districts in Gloucestershire prompted the debate.

Commenting, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-Water & Northleach) said:

“The latest figure for Gloucestershire shows that the 8 minute response target is being reached across the county in 69.4% of cases.

“This figure however masks a real divide in what could be argued as a two tier service. Cheltenham and Gloucester show 88% and 87%, but Stroud, Tewkesbury and Forest of Dean ambulance response rates are much lower with the Cotswolds being just 46%.

”Lives depend on an effective and efficient ambulance service. No one doubts that getting to an incident in more remote areas is more challenging but if a target is set surely the service should be structured so that it is achieved?

“I am pleased that we got cross-party support over this very important issue and that both the Leader and Chief Executive of Gloucestershire County Council will now write to the CEO of the Trust calling on the Service to improve the ambulance response times.”

Also, commenting about the Ambulance Trust’s latest announcement of an additional £700,000 of resources for Gloucestershire to improve performance, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson said:

“The extra resources is very good news. I am delighted that the Trust has finally seen that there is a real need to act on improving performance. I look forward to seeing how these additional funds will impact the Cotswolds.”

 

Call for volume to be turned down after road cash revealed

A lobby group is calling for noise from a busy road to be lowered after figures show large amounts of income going to the company maintaining it.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (left) with members of A419NAG

The issue of excessive noise from the A419/417 dual carriageway between Gloucester and Swindon has been a running sore for residents since it was first built in 1998. Various attempts to reduce the sound have been made over the years without success.

Since 2012, a group of residents and councillors have been working to reduce noise pollution from the road. Calling themselves A419NAG (Noise Action Group) they come from Bagendon, Baunton, Latton, Down Ampney, Driffield, Cirencester and Cerney Wick.

Now, they have released figures showing that a large amount of money has gone to Road Management Services (Gloucester) Ltd, the company which maintains the 32 mile highway.

Figures obtained by the group from the Highways Agency show that Road Management Services received a total of £285 million from the Government from 1996 to 2013. This was part of the contract agreed when the road was built and is based on a ‘shadow toll’ for every vehicle using the road. It is estimated that the company will receive at least another £200 million until the agreement ends in 2026.

Road Management Services have confirmed that they spend between £1 and £1.5 million a year on maintaining the road, excluding management costs.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) is chairman of A419 NAG and believes the figures show that cash is available to reduce the noise, “Those who live around Cirencester suffer just as much from excessive and irritating noise from the road as those around the Water Park area and north Wiltshire. People have been raising the issue again and we are calling for something fundamental to be done about this.”

“This is about righting a wrong – since the completion of the dual carriageway, a large amount of cash has been given out by the Government and very little spent in comparison. Surely a small part of this eye popping £285 million can be spent on reducing the noise? It is a reasonable thing to ask.”

Cllr Hodgkinson added, “We believe that the Highways Agency in conjunction with Road Management Services should use some of the cash and address this issue once and for all. Measures can be taken to bring the noise levels down.”

The group is currently producing a report, detailing the responses of 500 residents who have completed a survey on the impacts of noise pollution. They aim to publish this in the early summer.

Call for roads to be fixed to boost cycling

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with residents along the Churn Valley cycle and walkers route.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (centre) with residents along the Churn Valley cycle and walkers route.

Data supplied by the National Office of Statistics shows that cycling to work has dropped by a massive 26% in the last ten years in the Cotswolds compared to a rise of 14% across the country.

Whilst the rest of the UK has had a bout of cycling fever on the back of Tour de France and Olympics success, Gloucestershire has lagged behind. Figures for the census period 2001-2011 announced on 26 March reveal that cities like Bristol saw a sharp increase of 94% in people cycling to work whilst the South West as a whole has seen a rise of 15%. In contrast, the Cotswolds has dropped at an alarming rate whilst nearby Tewkesbury dropped by 7% and only Cheltenham managed a 4% increase.

Now, Cotswolds Liberal Democrat MP hopeful Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (GCC, Bourton & Northleach) is calling for the County Council to use some of the cash from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to improve road conditions:

“Spending money on cycling is cost-effective.  It reduces traffic, improves air quality, and improves health for the cyclists and for anyone breathing the local air.  The figures show that when towns and villages spend time, effort and money, they have been rewarded.

“In rural areas the roads feel lethal. Friends who are “would-be-cyclists” won’t cycle anywhere whilst the roads feel so intimidating.  The A40 and A436 are two roads which see high speeds and it feels very unsafe to cycle. I cycle on roads but don’t feel very safe and would do more of it if the conditions were better.

“These new figures suggest that making rural roads pot hole free and providing space for cyclists does work. In the Churn Valley I set up a safer cycling group 5 years ago and we have used the existing bridlepath between Stratton and North Cerney to give a route for bikes and walkers which is away from cars. It has cost very little due to people giving their time for free and this could happen elsewhere in the county.

Paul Morrish, from Shipton is a regular cyclist and works in Cheltenham. He would like to see disused railways used for cycling, walking and horse-riding, particularly as rural communities grow bigger:

“In rural areas and towns there is a high perception of danger.  Vehicles are getting wider which means less space on the road for bikes, pedestrians or horses.  Pot-holes are potentially lethal to cyclists –  hit one and you can be thrown off, avoid one and you can be killed if you swerve.

“A collision between car and cyclist will inevitably leave the cyclist physically worse off, but can leave the driver with unresolvable guilt.  There are many more developments planned in rural areas but sustainable transport needs to be considered as part of that.“

Now Cllr Hodgkinson has written to the County Council’s Highways boss for more to be done to sort out potholes and to provide better routes for Gloucestershire’s cyclists:

“These figures show the county has a lot to do to improve conditions on its roads and to encourage people to cycle so they feel safe and able to do what the rest of the country is doing in ever greater numbers. Whilst cycling to work in rural areas will always be more difficult we can take steps to make it a real option for people whilst improving road conditions in the towns.”

Council backs call for 999 service to be improved

A call was unanimously backed today for the 999 service in the Cotswolds to be improved.

GR001_NHS

Latest figures for ambulance response times in the Cotswolds show targets being missed by very wide margins once again.

Data presented to Gloucestershire’s latest Health Scrutiny committee shows that ambulances have missed targets for responding to patients in every category.

For life threatening calls, the national target is for 75% of patients to be responded to within specified times. In the Cotswolds that figure for 2013 is as low as 46%. Nearby towns like Cheltenham have higher response times in every category assessed.

Today, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Paul Hodgkinson called on Cotswold District Council to press the ambulance service to hit its targets. He told the Council Meeting  that the Cotswolds has been losing out to other parts of the West:

“I view with alarm the failure by the ambulance service to miss its response time targets in the Cotswolds by large margins. I am calling for the Council to urge the service to hit its targets, thereby giving Cotswolds residents the service they deserve.

“The latest figures for ambulance response times are very worrying. They show yet again that the Cotswolds has the worst ambulance response times in the entire Western region. Every performance target for our area has been missed and often massively. No other district has a worse record in the last year.

“Residents have contacted me about their personal experiences. A gentleman from Siddington told me that his wife waited in freezing temperatures for one and a half hours before being taken to hospital after collapsing on the street. Although this example may be extreme it is still not right and the service has to be relied upon by us all.”

Now Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents the Churn Valley on the District Council, has already written to Great Western Ambulance Service, asking how the service will be improved for residents.

“People in the Cotswolds need to be reassured that everything is being done to hit these targets and that we don’t get a poorer service compared to bigger towns and cities. By making a united stand, Cotswold councillors can send a very clear message that we deserve better.”

The motion, backed by all councillors at the meeting, means that the Council’s Chief Executive will write to the ambulance service listing the councillors’ concerns.

 

Call for NHS to come clean over future of Cheltenham hospital

A document has been made public which casts serious doubt on the local NHS hospitals trust’s reassuring words about the future of Cheltenham Hospital A&E.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

The document – drawn up by surgeons within Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal Hospitals – was aimed at developing a long-term plan for all the different surgical specialties.  It contains a suggestion that emergency surgery should be taken from Cheltenham and centralised in Gloucester.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for the Cotswolds, has campaigned to reverse the change to Cheltenham’s A&E and is very concerned about the impact of this latest proposal on Cotswolds residents: 

“Some of the proposals are uncontroversial – no-one minds travelling a few miles for planned surgery if that means they get the best treatment.  But there are some services which you need to reach in a hurry and where, in an emergency, every second could counts. So the fact that emergency surgery was included in the list of specialties that might be centralised is worrying. Many people in the Cotswolds rely on Cheltenham as their nearest hospital.

“Major trauma emergency cases –  road accidents for instance – already go to Gloucestershire Royal and the hospital’s trust decided in July that overnight blue light ambulance admissions would also go to Gloucester and not to Cheltenham.  The trust said this was because recruitment problems had made it impossible to fully staff two A&Es 24 hours a day.  But the fear was that all ambulance admissions would soon follow and that Cotswolds patients who go to Cheltenham would be faced with a hospital with little more than a minor injuries unit.  Clinical research shows that, in an emergency like a severe asthma attack, the extra 8 miles would probably make a critical difference in a significant number of cases.

Liberal Democrat councillors on the local Health & Wellbeing Board called for a rethink in the plans earlier this year but were outvoted by Conservative councillors.  Cotswold Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said he would prefer one A&E department and hoped Gloucester’s would be enhanced.

At the time the trust said there were no plans to close Cheltenham’s A&E but the surgeons’ document raises the prospect of emergency surgery being centralised in Gloucester, in which case Cheltenham A&E would have to close.

“We really need to know what the trust management are up to,” said Paul.  “What is the plan?  Are they taking this document seriously and contemplating the closure of Cheltenham’s A&E, even though they told us the opposite?  Are they committed to restoring two full A&E departments if they can? Or are they going to revive the old plan for one new hospital half way between Cheltenham and Gloucester?

“We need a well-informed but open debate, including Cotswolds residents, as soon as possible.”

Dire figures show ambulances missing 999 targets

Latest figures for ambulance response times in the Cotswolds show targets being missed ‘spectacularly’ according to Paul Hodgkinson.

Ambulance

Data presented to a recent Health Scrutiny committee shows that ambulances have missed targets for responding to patients in every category.

For life threatening calls, the national target is for 75% of patients to be responded to within specified times. In the Cotswolds that figure for 2013 is as low as 46%. Nearby towns like Cheltenham have higher response times in every category assessed.

The information has shocked Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Paul Hodgkinson who feels the Cotswolds has been losing out to other parts of the West:

“These latest figures are deeply worrying. They show that the Cotswolds has the worst ambulance response times in the entire Western region. Every performance target for our area has been missed and often spectacularly. No other district has a worse record so far this year.

“Coming off the back of reduced A&E opening times at Cheltenham hospital, this is another blow for health services in the Cotswolds. I am appalled that the performance is so poor compared to other areas.

“In a large rural area there will always be more time taken to get to a patient but this surely has to be factored into the service. In neighbouring Cheltenham and Gloucester response times are twice as good in some categories.

“My question for the ambulance bosses is – how are you going to improve these alarming statistics and provide the kind of service Cotswolds residents deserve?”

Now Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents Bourton and Northleach on Gloucestershire County Council, has written to Great Western Ambulance Service, asking how the service will be improved for residents.

“People in the Cotswolds need to be reassured that these targets will be hit in future and that they aren’t seen as the poor relations of other towns and cities.”

 

Call for action over gridlocked road

Lib Dem MEP for Gloucestershire Sir Graham Watson has visited the notorious Air Balloon roundabout.

L to R: Duncan McGaw from Coberley Parish Council. Paul Hodgkinson, Graham Watson at the traffic blackspot.

L to R: Duncan McGaw from Coberley Parish Council. Paul Hodgkinson, Graham Watson at the traffic blackspot.

He was invited by Cotswolds Parliamentary Candidate Cllr Paul Hodgkinson who is leading the call for an urgent solution to the congestion and pollution blackspot south of Gloucester.

Councillor Hodgkinson (GCC, Bourton and Northleach) first approached Sir Graham last year to ask what could be done about the high levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NO2) in the area off the A417. Whilst air quality policy falls under EU law, it is up to central government and local authorities to meet targets to reduce air pollution in the interests of public health. Currently the South West is failing to meet its targets to reduce air pollution, particularly when it comes to transport.

Sir Graham wrote to DEFRA about the problem and was told by them that it was down to local councils to work with the Highways Agency to deal with the issue.

Now, the MEP joined Paul to speak to one of the residents whose life is blighted by constant traffic fumes and to see for himself the ongoing traffic gridlock.

The roundabout is in Councillor Hodgkinson’s County Council ward. He commented:

“Residents living near the Air Balloon junction are hugely concerned about the effects of pollution. Their lives have been changed as the road has got busier and busier. In addition, the endless traffic queues are getting steadily worse, not just at peak times but often throughout the day. Try sitting in a queue which backs up for 2 miles south of the roundabout on a Friday afternoon.

This blight on the local economy is costing companies and individuals money and time. It needs urgent fixing. Only a proper solution will do. Residents have been asking for a tunnel or dual carriageway linking Brimpsfield to Brockworth for years but their plea has fallen on deaf ears. If we are serious about building a stronger economy and reducing air pollution this is the way forward.”

Call for urgent action on notorious traffic blackspot

The saga of traffic gridlock at the notorious Air Balloon roundabout in the Cotswolds took another turn this week.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is calling for urgent action at the Air Balloon roundabout

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson says enough is enough at the Air Balloon roundabout (photo courtesy of Wilts & Glos Standard)

Gloucestershire County Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee has written to the Highways Agency asking for progress to be made on the A417 ‘Missing Link’ and finding a solution to the traffic and pollution problems.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) is a member of that committee and helped to create the letter with other councillors on the committee.

He led the campaign earlier this year against a proposal to stop drivers turning right at the roundabout and now wants a long term solution:

“After the debacle of the ‘no right turn’ suggestion earlier this year, we are left with ever-increasing traffic jams at the Air Balloon, air pollution issues and a blot on the local economy.

“What this letter is doing is asking the Highways Agency to come up with a proper solution and to engage with councillors and residents. We have waited too long and patience has run out.

“One of the residents at the Air Balloon has moved out, having sold their property for a song. They had had enough of bad health caused by the pollution. The Highways Agency has a duty to act quickly for the sake of the other resident who is left there.”

The County’s Environment Committee is hoping for a positive response to the latest initiative.

Dismay at A&E closure

A decision to close Cheltenham’s A&E unit to emergency cases overnight has led to dismay in the Cotswolds.

At a meeting held last week at the NHS Foundation Trust in Brockworth, the clinical commissioning group governing body voted to restrict the hospital’s A&E admissions between the hours of 8pm and 8am. From August, patients with a critical illness who need treatment from emergency medicine doctors will need to go to Gloucester Royal Hospital.

The proposals were consulted on between February and May this year. However, few people locally have been aware of this.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, CDC Lib Dem Leader spoke after the decision was made, “I’m dismayed by the decision. How many Cotswolds residents were aware of this proposal? I was only made aware recently and it will impact in a big way on the Cotswolds – particularly to the north, east and south east of Cheltenham. “

“The proposal may lead to higher mortality rates – a study undertaken previously stated that mortality rates rise by 1% for every extra 10kms travelled.”

“There may be increased waiting  times at Gloucester Hospital.”

“For a large chunk of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham hospital is the nearest and most direct place to go to for emergency treatment. This decision was made by unelected people in the face of opposition from the Cheltenham MP and thousands of residents.”

“24/7 A&E facilities are vital for the areas surrounding Cheltenham.”