Councils ‘not winning the battle’ against potholes

News has broken today that councils are “not winning the battle” against potholes, as related vehicle breakdowns between April and June reached a three-year high.

These latest figures come from a report by Neil Lancefield which states that a total of 4,091 call-outs were received by the RAC which was the most for the second quarter of a year since 2015.

Incidents included damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels. The period followed severe weather in February and March which saw widespread snow and ice.

RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “Our roads are still in a poor state of repair after the damage caused by the Beast from the East and the generally harsh late winter conditions the country experienced.

“Councils have been working hard to fix potholes and general road surface degradation, but despite further emergency funding from central government their budgets are even more stretched than in previous years.

“Our figures demonstrate they are not winning the battle and as a result the safety of too many drivers, cyclists and motorcyclists is being put at risk.”

Responding, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson said:

“It is incredible that we are still talking about potholes while we are sweltering in the hottest summer for 40 years.

“The fact is that many of our county’s roads are still in a poor condition despite the winter being over for months. It is taking an age to properly repair some of our main routes. ‘A’ roads like the Fosse Way in the Cotswolds are appalling in parts, while some of Cheltenham’s roads can only be described as embarrassing. It’s the same all over Gloucestershire.

“There just isn’t enough investment going into the county’s roads and pavements and it is all too clear to anyone driving, cycling or walking on them.”

Meanwhile, Gloucestershire remains in the bottom half of a league table, compiled by “we are cycling UK”, of local authorities and their rate of fixing potholes.  GCC is currently sitting in 121st place out of 214.

Another pedestrian crossing for Bourton?

The pedestrian crossing on Station Road by the School is almost 5 years old. Many children cross the road each day and residents have felt safer going across this busy road out of school hours. Now, another crossing is being planned after lobbying from local residents.

Station Road has been a dangerous spot in the village. Back in 2012, as she was on maternity leave with her third child, local resident Ginie Moss decided to start petitioning for a crossing. Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, a passionate campaigner for road safety, contacted Ginie and offered his expertise and support. With the help of the local postmaster, both schools and the Parish Council, the petition gathered momentum with 1,100 signatures. Ginie and Paul then presented the petition to the County Council.

In 2013, after a year and a half of strong campaigning, the 24/7 feature on one of the village’s busiest roads was installed. Cllr Paul Hodgkinson said, “This all started with Ginie’s enthusiasm and her determination to get something done to make the road safer for pedestrians”.

Five years on, Ginie Moss feels a peace of mind when her children walk to and back from school on their own. She said: “I’m delighted to hear that residents in the Furrows estate may soon get another crossing near to them. It’s very difficult crossing the road there and people have raised this issue repeatedly. The County Council are in the early stages of planning the new crossing.”

Why is new crossing already closed?

A new zebra crossing in Bourton on the Water has already been closed – and people are asking why.

The crossing, which was opened at the same time as the new Co-Op store in the village, helps residents get across Station Road safely from the shop to homes.

Now, just a month after it was opened, ‘crossing not in use’ signs have gone up and the belisha beacons have been shrouded in orange hoods.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) was surprised and dismayed when he heard the news:

“It is crazy to shut it after it has been open since the new Co-Op was opened weeks ago! I gather it is because the developer who built the new shop didn’t alert the County Council who in turn couldn’t get the proper legal process and consultation in place in order to install it.

“This really is bureaucracy gone mad and people aren’t happy. The crossing is on Station Road and is very well used by residents and students from the Cotswold School. In fact people are still using the crossing and cars are still stopping. Everyone is confused!

“I’ve now contacted highways bosses and have asked them to sort out the situation as quickly as possible.”

New facilities for Bourton-on-the-Water Primary Academy

There’s been a £0.754 million cash injection into improving a Cotswold school. 

Paul Hodgkinson with children at Bourton Primary School’s Trim Trail

Bourton-on-the-Water Primary Academy will use this much needed funding to expand its core facilities. The school will build a brand new purpose built professional kitchen and extend the existing school hall to provide for more children.

This work will allow the school to create space for a new classroom and create additional places for children in the area as new homes are being built.

John Jones, head teacher of Bourton-on-the-Water Primary Academy, said: “With the expansion of the village and the expectation for the school to increase its intake, it is vital that changes to facilities are made to make sure high quality educational provision.

“This funding has allowed us to develop areas that we could not have done without it.”

Gloucestershire County Council is managing the project alongside the school and developer Speller Metcalfe. The improvements are due to be completed by the summer of 2018.

The money comes from s106 funding from developers as part of planning permission. This can be used in the local area for things like school expansions, community facilities or road improvements.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, local member for Bourton-on-the-Water, said: “ There is a need for extra places at Bourton Primary Academy with the village expanding quickly, so this is excellent news for the local community.

“This section 106 funding will help them to get started on their expansion plans, which is something the school has been wanting to do for a while.”

It starts with me

Councillors in Gloucestershire are backing a campaign to promote healthy living which starts this week.

The campaign promotes the importance of regular HIV testing and is co-ordinated by HIV Prevention England (HPE) with support and participation from organisations in the public, statutory and private sectors.

Liberal Democrat County Council Leader, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, has today publicly spoken out on the importance of regular HIV testing as National HIV Testing Week starts on Saturday 18th November.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) says that the campaign is all about being proactive with your own health:

“I fully support the ‘It starts with me’ campaign. Data shows that in 2016 there were 10,268 HIV tests carried out in sexual health clinics in Gloucestershire. The actual number of tests is likely to be higher as this figure does not include all HIV tests carried out in GP surgeries in the county, but it is still only 2% of the estimated 492,000 adult population aged 18 and over living in the county.

“I have personally been tested for HIV in the last couple of months and I would strongly encourage people to be tested too.

“I am pleased that my test results came back negative, but it cannot be underestimated that regular testing is key in diagnosing and treating Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) promptly.

“Poor sexual health has a direct impact on an individual’s wellbeing. Many STIs, if left undiagnosed, can lead to severe health complications.

“It is better to be safe than sorry and I would therefore encourage anyone who is sexually active to get tested today.”

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Public Health, Cllr Iain Dobie (Leckhampton & Warden Hill), also said:

“Gloucestershire County Council has responsibility for improving the health of the county’s local population and for providing public health services including sexual health services.

“This includes the testing and prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the provision of contraception services.

“The ultimate goal of this campaign is to increase regular HIV testing, which has my full support.”

Is new pilot another step towards the closure of Cheltenham’s A & E?

Liberal Democrats have once again raised concerns over the future of Cheltenham hospital as a new NHS pilot will see patients moved to Gloucester.

A letter circulated by Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust gives details of service changes over the coming months as part of a winter plan. From October 2017 to March 2018, all orthopaedic acute and trauma patients requiring admission or surgical intervention will be moved from Cheltenham General Hospital to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Health and Communities, Cllr Iain Dobie (Leckhampton and Warden Hill) said:

“We’ve already seen Cheltenham’s A & E reduced at night between 8pm and 8am from a full doctor-led service to a restricted nurse-led operation in 2013. Martin Horwood MP and Liberal Democrat councillors opposed this permanent downgrading  at the time. In this latest move, the day time service is now being cut back at Cheltenham A&E.

“People turning up in pain with a broken leg or arm which needs an immediate operation, or someone with a broken hip which demands time in a hospital bed, will now be sent over to Gloucester.

“We are calling for the restoration of a full 24/7 A&E service at Cheltenham General and a properly funded NHS.”

Elected members in other parts of the county are also worried about the impact these changes will have on residents in their own districts, for example, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said:

“This news is troubling. People in the Cotswolds rely on Cheltenham as their nearest hospital so this will mean extra travel for them and their relatives. But what does this really mean for the future of Cheltenham hospital? Slowly but surely services are being whittled away and moved elsewhere. The future of this hospital is at stake – many people value it a lot and it must stay!”

Want to ask the council an urgent question? Put it in writing! 

The Conservatives at Shire Hall yesterday voted to stop people asking questions on the day of council meetings. 

The decision to change the current set up for ‘oral questions’ was made at the County Council’s Constitution Committee. That’s the body which recommends how the Council operates.

Up until now, members of the public have been able to turn up thirty minutes before the start of a council meeting and ask any question related to council business. Recently questions have been asked about the controversial incinerator, the pay freeze for public sector workers and cycling.

Now, all five Conservatives on the committee have voted to change the deadline for asking oral questions to 12 noon the day before a council meeting – but only if it is deemed ‘urgent’ by the Council’s Chairman. If it’s not urgent then you’ll need to put it in writing a full 7 days before the council meeting!

Conservative councillors claimed that they didn’t have enough time to be able to answer questions properly.

This was challenged by the Lib Dems and Green member on the Committee who voted against the proposal, calling it ‘anti democratic’.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach), voted against the move and says it comes at the worst possible time:

“Shire Hall has been rocked by an appalling OFSTED report into children’s services this year. That report criticised the culture and recommended more openness. What we’ve seen today is a decision which flies in the face of that. It’s a resident’s democratic right to ask questions and this change is certainly not in the spirit of the Council being accessible to everyone.

“The ability to ask verbal questions on the day of full council provides a great deal of flexibility for members of the public. If something is urgent you need to be able to come in and ask it. People live busy lives and with the advent of social media and 24/7 rolling news we all expect quick responses. This is the era of instant news not snail mail.

“The current system provides an opportunity for anyone across the county to come along on the day of council and ask a question that they feel is important to them after the deadline for submitting questions in writing has passed.

“In making this change the Tories are abusing democracy and getting rid of the things which irritate them. Cabinet Members get paid a special responsibility allowance of £18,000 a year and therefore should be able to think on their feet at short notice.

“This is Gloucestershire, not North Korea.”

The decision taken yesterday will now be debated at the next County Council meeting in December. If it is agreed, members of the public will then need to submit an oral question by 12 noon the day before a Council meeting if it is urgent. Written questions remain unchanged in that they need to be submitted 7 days in advance of a Council meeting.

Call for ‘people’s challenge’ to road closure

A councillor has asked residents to contact Gloucestershire County Council en masse in a bid to re-open a well used Cotswolds road.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton & Northleach) is calling for the ‘old A40’ near Northleach to be brought back into use after being closed by the Council in 2015. He has tabled a question at this week’s County Council meeting asking if highways bosses are allowing roads to fall into disuse.

The road links villages like Yanworth, Compton Abdale and Hazleton with Northleach and was used as a more direct route to avoid the congested and busy A40. It was temporarily closed under emergency powers after the Council claimed that an initial high level inspection showed that damage to the road was severe enough to cause public harm.

Now, the County Council has formally published its intention under the Road Traffic Act to extend the road closure indefinitely. People have until just 14 September to let Shire Hall lawyers know what they think about this.

Cllr Hodgkinson is asking for as many people as possible to contact Council lawyers urgently:

“Last year I presented a petition with 500 names on it to the Council Leader calling for the old A40 to be re-opened yet their wishes have been ignored. Highways officers promised me that a full geotechnical report would be produced in April with recommendations on how the road could be mended or even partially opened. To date I have still not received any recommendations or proposals. The Council is dragging its feet and I’m fed up with promises being made which aren’t kept.”

“The road is already falling into disrepair and I have been told it is not a priority to open it quickly – I have no faith that it will be re-opened at all.”

“The only way we can get Council bosses to listen is through a people’s challenge to the legal notice which Shire Hall lawyers have issued asking for the road to be closed indefinitely.

“Having taken advice it’s clear that the Council has failed to establish whether the damage to the road is indeed severe sufficiently enough to close it completely, partially if at all. To date and after frequent requests there is still no formal report outlining the severity of the damage. This may lead to potential grounds to challenge outright the extension in full or reduce the current order. For example, to allow one way traffic flow on one side of the road for cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

“I am told that the use of the Road Traffic Act in circumstances where work has not even started or in fact where there are no firm plans or even a timetable to begin work introduces grounds for a challenge. The fact that it took them over 12 months to commission a survey in the first instance and then fail to provide a full report prior to the issue of the legal notice on August 24 infers that Council bosses are deliberately dragging their feet and behaving unreasonably. A challenge may have the potential to force them into scheduling the works within a definite timetable.”

Anyone wishing to make their views known should contact Carrie Denness, Principal Lawyer, Legal Services, Gloucestershire County Council, Shire Hall, Westgate Street, Gloucester, GL1 2TG.

Email: carrie.denness@gloucestershire.gov.uk.

Cricket club on front foot with new pavilion

Bourton Vale Cricket Club will benefit from a £1,000 investment in facilities after it received funding from the County Council’s children’s activity fund.

The cricket club has received support from the English Cricket Board (ECB) to build a new pavilion on the site of the existing building which has been there for 90 years.

The children’s activity fund has £5,000 available for each county councillor. Cllr Paul Hodgkinson backed the bid and says that the club is busy fundraising as it looks to improve facilities to help play carry on as a vital part in the local community:

“The improvements will allow Bourton Vale CC to accommodate other sports clubs in the area, particularly in the winter, as well as provide a base for the club’s thriving youth sections to train.

“Helping this fantastic cricket club was an easy decision. A host of young people and children use the facilities and are helping to make the club a vibrant and active place for Bourton and nearby villages.

“I’ve been impressed at the fundraising that the club is doing to have a brand new club house in place for next year’s season. The county council’s contribution is a start and is aimed at getting more young people active in their community.”

Special meeting to be held over “shocking” Ofsted report

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS have secured an extraordinary meeting of the County Council after a damning Ofsted report was published rating the county’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’.  

The forty-one page report conducted between 27 February and 23 March 2017 found “serious and widespread failures for children in need of help and protection” and “serious concerns about the integrity of the current senior leadership team”.

The overall conclusion by Ofsted that Children’s services in Gloucestershire are ‘inadequate’  came from examining the following areas:

·         Children who need help and protection – Inadequate

·         Children looked after and achieving permanence – Requires improvement

·         Adoption performance – Good

·         Experiences and progress of care leavers – Requires improvement

·         Leadership, management and governance – Inadequate.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) says the report is shocking and a massive blow to those who are responsible for the protection of children:

“This is an utterly damning report on the state of local children’s services in Gloucestershire. It is a story of failure.

“Ofsted has graded two out of five areas as ‘inadequate’ and another two areas as ‘requires improvement’. It is alarming that the report states that “senior leaders have not sufficiently prioritised or improved the quality of social work practice since services for children in need of help and protection were judged inadequate in 2011, and the quality of services to children and families has now deteriorated significantly”.

“The report goes on to say that “management oversight is inadequate…”, that there are “significant weaknesses in social work practice” and that “children in need and child protection plans are not sufficiently clear or robust.”

“We have seen several ‘inadequate’ inspection reports across the country where there have been calls for resignations and requests made to establish independent peer review boards.

“Here, we know that heads are already rolling as a result of this report with the sudden resignation of one and the quick retirement of another senior officer within the department. It is not surprising as this is a truly awful and deeply concerning report. The Council’s leadership now need to consider their own positions.

“Approximately 124,799 children and young people under the age of 18 years live in Gloucestershire. At 28th February 2017, 7,319 children had been identified as needing specialist children’s services, and 604 children are being looked after by this local authority, these children deserve better.

“The Council’s leaders need to explain how this has happened under their watch.”