Everyone in Much Wenlock and the surrounding area will be aware of the poor state of the roads and footways locally. There are problems all around Shropshire and, indeed, many other counties. South Shropshire has a meandering network of roads whose poor condition can be traced back to the original use of the internal combustion engine as a motive power.
Tracks and occasional stream beds were stoned and tarmacked with a drain thrown in here and there to allow water to drain away. This pre-dates the existence of Shropshire Council and Bridgnorth District Council by several decades. Improvements have been made over the years and the main routes – the A458 from Bridgnorth to Shrewsbury and the A4169 from Wenlock to Telford – are constructed to a higher standard and maintained as such.
Nonetheless, successive periods of bad weather which damages our highways especially in the winter of 2017-18, a freeze by central government on local authority spending, and the growing cost of adult social care mean that taxpayers’ money has to be spent very carefully. This means careful planning and ensuring that the Council gets good value for money. I frequently receive calls or emails from residents complaining about potholes or about the poor repairs to potholes. I don’t intend to go into detail about these here, but suffice to say that we have continual problems in Easthope, Stanton Long, Benthall, Brockton, Wenlock Edge, Barrow Street, High Street and many other locations.
On 16th January this year several councillors from the Bridgnorth area met the Leader of Shropshire Council, Cllr Peter Nutting, at which we expressed frustration on a number of fronts including the most basic highways repairs and on unfinished highways schemes. Some of those councillors subsequently met Cllr Nutting and officers on 18th March to reiterate their concerns. I was one of those councillors and we were encouraged to list three issues which could be addressed quickly. Four months on, and those items I listed have not been addressed. I have not received a progress update since April and, out of frustration, I have tabled a question for the Shropshire Council meeting on 25th July.
The three issues in Much Wenlock – which are the tip of a very large iceberg – were:
- Resurfacing a dangerously uneven footway in Wilmore Street (a very short street) – reported at least as early as 29th October 2017. People have tripped and at least one I know of has fallen on this busy path.
- The installation of the second half of a twelve feet long bollard scheme in the High Street designed to ensure that road is not blocked by inconsiderate parking. Four years ago, with the road closed for the day, a gang turned up to carry out the work – but brought only one of the two bollard units with them. The other one was left in the yard at Bridgnorth where, so far as I’m aware, it still languishes, and the installation is ineffective as a result.
- At about the same time, a fairly simple scheme to provide some parking for people with disabilities, and loading bays, coupled with double yellow lines in the centre of the town went to consultation twice before being agreed. The Traffic Regulations Order was signed, but little was done, it ran out of time and has not been implemented.
I have chased these issues repeatedly for up to four years and have received a variety of assurances but have seen no action. There are several other outstanding issues, some of them very simple and routine, for instance:
- The Rector of Much Wenlock, Revd Matthew Stafford, asked the Diocese to pay to order a roadside access mirror opposite the rectory on New Road two years ago. It has been approved by Shropshire Council and the Diocese have undertaken to pay for it once it is installed. There have been lots of promises but no sign of the mirror.
- A three-way direction sign at a T-junction lies in a hedge at Posenhall at the end of my lane, rusted through at the base of its pole a couple of years ago.
- The Methodist Church direction signs, purchased by the Methodists for £360 in 2014 and installed at either end of King Street by Shropshire Council, were removed in 2017, one allegedly having been felled by a bus. They disappeared from the highways depot a couple of years ago. Promises to replace them have not been met.
- Blocked gullies – some have not been cleared for years and in recent heavy rainfall the streets were awash. This in a town where the risk of flooding is such that the Environment Agency contributed towards a £2.1m scheme for flood alleviation.
None of these concerns should be viewed as my being critical of Shropshire Council’s area highways managers who are managing a large workload on a very tight budget with human resources that have been slashed to the bone. There is a further long list of outstanding highways works – some capital, some revenue – in Much Wenlock.
My questions to the Highways Portfolio Holder, Cllr Steve Davenport are:
- Is Much Wenlock a unique division of Shropshire Council in having such basic work outstanding for such a long period of time?
- Promises for completion of these works have been made and broken repeatedly. At Council on 25th July would you please give a public undertaking of completion dates?
- I have commented at Council and elsewhere on the foolhardiness of raiding the highways budget in order to balance the budget in other areas. With the benefit of hindsight, do you agree that I was correct?
Steve has provided a written response, which you can see in the Council papers. I don’t believe the response is adequate and does not acknowledge the chronic problems which folk in and around Much Wenlock have to endure whether driving or on foot.
My decision to ask a formal question – which is unlikely to win me any prizes for popularity in Shirehall – has prompted a visit to Much Wenlock by two Council officers. We walked the town for 2½ hours on Thursday afternoon. An optimist might hope that all the issues that we examined might now be dealt with in a timely fashion. I’m a realist and it’s with a heavy heart that I’ve taken this action. I’ll provide an update after the Shropshire Council meeting on Thursday.