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.

Call for transparency over A417 consultation

Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire are calling for clarity on how local communities will be involved in the development of vital plans to solve the A417 ‘Missing Link’.

The Air Balloon roundabout has huge amounts of traffic and is a notorious blackspot for accidents and pollution

A comprehensive consultation area, involvement of hard to reach groups and briefings for local councils are among the demands being made by councillors Paul Hodgkinson, Steve Jordan and Max Wilkinson.

Gloucestershire County Council has briefed that the consultation for Highways England’s project will take place in the first two months of this year.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for:

  • a consultation zone to reflect the national significance of the project – including all of Cheltenham and all nearby  villages in the Cotswolds and Tewkesbury districts
  • a comprehensive programme of consultation events so local people can have their say
  • a thorough strategy for ensuring hard to reach groups can take part, including marginalised communities and time-poor working people
  • briefings for all impacted local councils, including Cheltenham Borough Council and Cotswold District Council
  • involvement for parish councils, including offers of community benefits

So far, the county council has closely guarded the details of the A417 proposals and the accompanying consultation has been delayed.

It is thought people will find out more within the next two months, including potential routes.

However, aside from the county council cabinet members, local councils have so far been kept in the dark.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Leader of Gloucestershire County Council Lib Democrats, represents part of the A417 and says there needs to be as wide a consultation as possible: “We’ve waited so long for this road to be built so it’s important that everyone knows what is going on and has a chance to comment on the proposals.”

Cllr Steve Jordan, Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council, added: “As a Council we have supported plans to resolve the ‘Missing Link’ from the start. It is important that there is an open and comprehensive consultation to make sure the details are right.”

Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate, said: “This is a vital project for the future of Cheltenham and the wider county, so we’re calling for Highways England and the county council to ensure local people are fully involved.”

“That means a proper schedule of events and publicity to inform everyone about the proposals – including the time-poor working people who use the road to commute to work.”

 

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!”

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.

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.”

Call for Road Safety Champion

This week at Shire Hall a proposal had been made for the creation of a Road Safety Champion for Gloucestershire.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with residents and councillors from along the A436

Latest figures reveal that the number of killed and seriously injured people in the county last year was 207. But, the County Council has set itself a ‘target’ of 141. The number of killed and seriously injured older people was 48. This was double the County Council’s own ‘target’. This comes on the back of equally disturbing figures over the last few years.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson questioned the current Cabinet Member responsible for road safety about what the Council was actually doing to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“Any road accident is certainly one too many and although I am pleased that over the last 10 years casualties on our county’s roads have reduced, the county council target has nevertheless been consistently missed in the last 3 years. Recently, rural roads such as the A429 Fosse Way have seen a major increase in deaths. Other roads in Gloucestershire including the A48 in the Forest of Dean have also seen regular road safety issues.

“I have therefore called for a Road Safety Champion who will work with the Council’s road safety team focusing specifically on this alarming trend and ultimately to save lives.

“This Champion would be a County Councillor who would really tackle this problem and provide a focal point for reducing accidents.

“We hope our request is reasonable and that whoever runs the administration after May’s elections will seriously consider the creation of this new role to promote road safety and make a decision on this as soon as possible.”

Take control back of our roads

Liberal Democrats have announced bold plans to bring the county’s roads and footways back under the control of the County Council.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) has pledged to look at how the county’s highway services can be taken back in-house rather than extend the existing contract with Amey.

Since April 2014, Amey has taken responsibility for managing and maintaining Gloucestershire’s highway network, which includes nearly 10,000km of roads, as well as providing winter maintenance services and delivering highway improvement schemes.

The contract, which runs for 5 years with possible extensions up to 11 years, is currently being reviewed by the county’s Highways Commissioning Team. Councillors are due to decide in the early summer whether to extend the contract for a further 3 years or to terminate it in 2018/19. Due to the length of time it takes to re-tender the highways contract the decision to extend  it needs to be taken between 18 and 24 months prior to the end of the 5 year period.

Amey’s performance over the years has been regularly criticised by both the Liberal Democrats and by parish councils and residents. Targets for filling potholes were repeatedly missed by the private contractor until recently.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson said:

“There is an unfounded acceptance that private companies such as Amey are cheaper and more efficient than the public sector. Many councils up and down the country are however taking public services back in-house. There are substantial cost savings being achieved as a result of ‘insourcing’ and those councils that have brought services back in-house are delivering higher quality services.

“In 2011, Cumbria, Ealing and Rotherham all brought their highways back in-house. Cumbria’s reason was simply to allow greater control and ability to deliver efficiency savings. Councils have fallen out of love with outsourcing vital services and fed up with private contractors failing to deliver. Amey is certainly no exception.

“Right from the beginning of the Amey contract, we saw many so called ‘teething troubles’, but problems escalated.

“The teething problems have become a nagging toothache requiring much needed treatment. We should not be railroaded into thinking that extending the contract with Amey or retendering and mobilising a new contract with another private contractor are our only options.

“I have serious misgivings in extending the contract with Amey and have therefore pledged to ask council officers to work on the option of bringing our highways back in-house if the Lib Dems form an administration at Shire Hall after the May local elections.

“Let’s take back control of our roads.”