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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.”

Speed gates come to the Churn Valley

Road safety has been an ongoing concern for residents who live along the A435 in the Churn Valley.

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In particular the speed of traffic going through North Cerney. There have been regular speed checks by the police and community which show a small but persistent number of drivers exceeding the 40mph limit.

The centre of the village sees pedestrians including school children crossing the road to catch buses, a busy junction into the village and accessing the pub and primary school.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson discussed these issues with North Cerney Parish Council last year and – after meeting Highways on site – agreed to jointly fund a set of 4 gates at either end of the village. These gates are a feature of some other villages in the Cotswolds and the aim is to alert drivers to the fact they’re entering a village environment and a lower speed limit.

The gates have been jointly funded by Paul with the small pot of money he gets each year to fund highways projects, North Cerney Parish Council and Gloucestershire Highways.

The good news is that all 4 gates are now in place.

Further up the A435 heading to Cheltenham, two trial gates have been installed approaching the turning into Rendcomb. The aim of these is once again to slow traffic after numerous complaints about difficulties in exiting the junction there safely. These gates have also been jointly funded with Rendcomb Parish Council.

Council rakes in millions from parking

Nearly £10 million profit has been produced from council parking operations over the last five years in Gloucestershire.  

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The figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats also show just under £2.5million was made both in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016.

Reference will be made to this huge sum of money by the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) in a question directed to parking bosses at next Wednesday’s County Council Cabinet Meeting.

In commenting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“Next week, I’ll be challenging the Cabinet Member for parking to provide me with details of exactly what this surplus in parking has been spent on over the last few years.

“I’m aware that any profit generated must by law be spent on transport-related activities. It would however be good to see precisely those things that have been funded from money created from parking charges and penalty notices.

“Nearly £10 million is indisputably a huge amount of money. Gloucestershire was ranked 79 out of 353 councils in England with the largest parking surpluses. It could and should have been seen as making a very real difference in Gloucestershire, but I’m at a loss to see exactly what benefit this money has actually had. I’m dissatisfied and frustrated that the roads across the county are still dreadful. Where has this massive profit gone?

“The Conservatives have had 12 years in power on Gloucestershire County Council to get this right and they’ve simply failed to sort out the roads and pavements despite this windfall.

“I am saddened that we haven’t seen significant road improvements reflecting this significant sum of money generated from people who have paid for parking charges and penalty notices.

“Only a total change of approach will end the vicious cycle of potholed roads and ever increasing parking profits.”

Council pays out thousands of pounds for pothole damage

Nearly £18,000 of taxpayers’ money has been paid out to drivers for pothole damage in Gloucestershire.

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The figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire County Council show that £17,774 has been paid in compensation to motorists for pothole-related damage over the last three years.

Now, the county’s Liberal Democrats have expressed bitter disappointment with the Conservative controlled Council for not properly investing in the area’s roads. 

Liberal Democrat Shadow for Highways, Cllr. Chris Coleman (St Mark’s and St Peter’s) said:

“A total of 1,713 unsurprisingly annoyed drivers made claims for compensation between November 2013 and November 2016. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, whether they are motorists, councils or taxpayers.

“People already have to fork out so much to drive a car, the least they should expect is that their vehicle doesn’t get ruined by a bumpy road.

“Thousands of pounds are now being spent on pay-outs that could have been invested instead in fixing our roads.

“Roads should be fixed quickly so this compensation does not have to be paid out in the first place.

“It is about time the Conservatives sorted out our county roads for good.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) added:

“The volume of claims is large for A roads. I’m not at all surprised given the correspondence I get regularly from constituents who have damaged their cars driving through potholes.

“The spike in claims in Spring 2016 reflects the massive backlog in repairs which GCC’s roads contractor Amey was experiencing. It also came at the end of a very wet winter when so many potholes appeared.

“It highlights a failure by the Conservatives who have been responsible for roads in the county for the last 12 years. They need to invest more in road maintenance and improve the quality of repairs. It is the number one thing people raise with me and it has to improve.”

Nationally a total of £12 million has been paid out over the last four years on pothole compensation, with an average payment per person of £650.

500 back call to re-open road

Recently Cllr Paul Hodgkinson launched a petition to re-open a road connecting Northleach and Compton Abdale.

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The road is referred to as ‘the Old A40’ locally as it was the original main road linking Cheltenham to Northleach before the Northleach by pass (A40) was built.

This Wednesday 7 December Paul formally presented the petition at the County Council meeting in Shire Hall.

The petition has attracted just under 500 names – a large number for a local issue.

Cllr Hodgkinson told the council meeting:

“The old A40 runs between the A40 at Puesdown and the Old Prison at Northleach and has been well used by local people as an alternative route to Northleach and to villages such as Yanworth and Compton Abdale. It was closed in 2015 as a result of a wall collapsing and the ground subsiding.

“Whilst we all understand that it takes time to investigate and remedy a situation, I believe that enough is enough and that County Council highways bosses must now act and provide a timetable for the road to be re-opened. It’s now 15 months since the road has been closed and the long-promised geotechnical survey of the road won’t even happen until early next year.

“That survey is key to finding out what’s wrong with the road and for Highways then to decide what action to take.

“I’m pleased so many people have supported my campaign to re-open the road. It’s been shut for far too long and we need to see something happening. People pay their council tax and expect roads to be usable.

“I hope this petition will put pressure on Highways to act quickly.”

The wording of the petition is: ‘We the undersigned call on Gloucestershire County Council and Gloucestershire Highways to re-open the old A40 as quickly as possible.’

Call for lower speed limit

Residents have called for greater road safety in the village of Perrotts Brook near Cirencester.

SR_8557_001     Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Cllr Nigel Robbins and Theo Hare,centre right, with copies of the petition to reduce the speed limit on Welsh Way at Perrott's Brook with some of the local residents

A petition of 70 names, gathered by local businessman Theo Hare, lobbies Gloucestershire Highways to cut the speed limit amidst concerns over the ways vehicles drive through the village.

Now, County Councillors Paul Hodgkinson and Nigel Robbins have backed residents and will be presenting the petition to December’s Council meeting.

Cllr Hodgkinson says the current system of speed limits is bizarre: “You have a situation at the moment where drivers are legally limited to 50mph on the busy main road between Cheltenham and Cirencester but in the narrow lanes of the village they can drive faster!

“It’s no wonder that residents complain of near-misses and feel unsafe as they walk and cycle.

“What we need is for Highways to listen and do something about this strange anomaly. People’s safety has to take priority and it’s totally reasonable to ask drivers to slow down a bit as they go through the village.”

 

Fight to keep popular newsagent

Residents in Bourton on the Water have expressed anger at moves to oust the village’s remaining newsagent shop.

Newsagent protest

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is campaigning to save the ‘community hub’ in the iconic tourist centre, encouraging residents to file objections to an application by the shop’s landlord.

The Cotswold District Council planning website has received 100 responses from local people who oppose the proposed conversion of the store into a fast food take away.

Cllr Hodgkinson, who represents Bourton and Northleach on the County Council, said: “The thought of losing the one remaining newsagent is really bad news.

“I’m very angry about this as Bourton has expanded hugely in recent years with more houses being built at the moment.

“We have 4,000 people in the village and there’s just one newsagent left to serve the community.”

Cllr Hodgkinson doesn’t feel Bourton needs another food outlet as there are already 35 in the village.

He added that neighbours meet each other on their daily visits to the newsagents and also buy a range of other goods:

“It has become a social hub and one which people do use and value. Let’s hope common sense prevails and that the newsagent can stay.”

A protest outside the newsagents attracted 50 local people who watched as Cllr Paul Hodgkinson and other councillors handed a letter of objection to the landlord at his home in the centre of Bourton.

Council misses recycling targets for last 4 years

Latest figures show that Gloucestershire is binning more waste than ever but too much is going to landfill.

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Now, the Liberal Democrats are calling for the County Council to get its recycling shoes on and start hitting waste targets. At a recent Council meeting they called on Shire Hall bosses to find ways to boost the amount we all leave out on the kerbside which can be used again.

The latest figures show that county-wide recycling rates are averaging 48%. That’s 5% less than the target of 53% which the Council has set itself.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach), Leader of the county Lib Dems, led the debate and says that the Council’s administration needs to address the disappointing figures:

“When targets are set then every effort has to be made to meet them. This is serious stuff as we’re protecting our environment when we recycle more. The 53% target hasn’t been met for the last four years. The Council’s target is to recycle/compost at least 60% of its household waste by 2020 with an aspirational target of 70% by 2030. It clearly has a long way to go to achieve these goals.

“Sadly, across the county some of the recycling figures are low. In 2015/2016, Stroud was at the bottom with only 31% of their household waste being sent for recycling whilst Gloucester could only achieve a 37% rate. The Cotswolds was the only district that had met the 53% recycling target achieving a 58% rate last year, although even this has been falling from its peak.

“In the council chamber I called for a real uplift in recycling rates across the county. I agree with Gloucestershire’s ‘Waste Core Strategy’ in that we need to make sure that reusing and composting should be made as simple as possible and that people and businesses can easily recycle on the kerbside or at waste sites.

“There are some real differences across the county when it comes to dealing with trash. In some areas councils collect drink cartons whilst in others people have no choice but to send them to landfill. And what about metals and textiles? There’s so much scope here to help us all recycle more.

“In the meantime, I’ll be insisting that the Cabinet Member at Shire Hall responsible for waste commissions an urgent report to look at ways the county’s recycling rates can be improved and for this to be discussed by all councillors in December.

“Talking rubbish for some might not be very interesting, but how we dispose of it is an important issue, especially now that this Conservative administration has committed us to a massive incinerator at Javelin Park – we can’t let that be an excuse to fail to recycle.”

Missing Link work won’t start before 2021

Construction of the notorious ‘Missing Link’ at the Air Balloon roundabout is unlikely to start for another 5 years.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson called for urgent action over the Air Balloon rounadabout

That’s the latest word from roads bosses who are managing the project.

In a letter to the Leader of Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Highways England have confirmed that the project is still ongoing despite changes in Government but that any hope of construction work starting soon has gone.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) wrote to the new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in July asking him to re-commit to the project following the Brexit vote. Mr Grayling didn’t answer himself but passed the letter to Highways England to respond.

Now, Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach), who represents the area around the Air Balloon roundabout on the A417, says he’s happy that the work is still planned but disappointed it is taking so long to happen:

“The ‘Missing Link’ has been a problem for our county for more than 20 years. It’s now heavily congested at all times of day. Recently we have seen weekly incidents including broken down lorries and yet more accidents.

“Whilst I’m glad that fixing this urgent problem is still on the agenda, the news that work won’t even start for another 5 years is frustrating. This road is a real drag on Gloucestershire’s economy.

“My other concern is that Highways England say in their letter that funding for all schemes is reviewed regularly. Does that mean the Government could pull the plug if it wanted to?

“I will keep the pressure up on the new Transport Minister. It’s a shame he hasn’t given his personal commitment to the scheme and has not responded to my request for him to visit and see the issues for himself.”

Highways England are currently working to identify a number of different options to solve the issues on the A417. They say that they will be engaging with local people later this year.

Call for action over shocking levels of deprivation

New figures show big differences across Gloucestershire when it comes to hardship and access to services. 

Rural Negative Word Cloud

At the latest County Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors were presented with alarming figures showing how the county fares compared to other parts of England. And it made for uncomfortable reading as council bosses prepare their budgets for next year.

The figures come from an ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation’ and show levels of ‘deprivation’ for each part of Gloucestershire.

Areas are ranked from least deprived to most deprived, based on different measures including income, employment, education skills and training, health deprivation and disability, crime and disorder and barriers to housing and services.

The picture shows Gloucester and the Forest of Dean as ranked higher for deprivation compared to Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, the Cotswolds and Stroud.

But parts of the county usually seen as wealthier also show surprising results says Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach):

“There are pockets of people in the Cotswolds who face barriers to housing and services. I wasn’t expecting to see rural areas feature so highly in the deprivation league table.

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but behind this veneer there are shocking levels of isolation and below average wages. Places like Chedworth now have few buses, sky high house prices and bad mobile phone coverage. For the more vulnerable this is a real issue which is not often talked about.

“Gloucestershire is made up of six unique districts; I’m appalled by these new figures. The Conservatives who have run the Council for 11 years have a responsibility to step up to the plate, take real action to address this situation and make sure there’s a level playing field for accessing services in our county. I want to see them come up with a plan to tackle these inequalities.”

At next month’s Council meeting, Cllr Hodgkinson will be asking the Leader of the County Council how the administration plans to address these new figures.