Much Wenlock’s highways woes

Whilst many of the activities conducted by Shropshire Council are generally, and quite rightly, considered perfectly satisfactory, its highways maintenance leaves much to be desired. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission have been satisfied with Children’s Services and Adult Social Care. Refuse collection and recycling are rarely issues that residents of Much Wenlock and the surrounding area bring to me as causing difficulty. Whilst planning can be controversial, Shropshire Council’s decisions, when appealed, are upheld in approximately 80% of cases.

Highways problems unfortunately form a significant part of my current email postbag. Whether it’s blocked drains, potholes or crumbling footways, folk let me know about them.

I intend to set out the position and I’ll use some examples. These are the very small tip of a large Wenlockian highways iceberg – I don’t intend to list all of those issues that are outstanding here.

The catalyst for this post is the December meeting of Shropshire Council which took place on Thursday. There was a large agenda, dominated by climate change and some significant investment issues, including the Shrewsbury shopping centres, Ludlow Assembly Rooms and property in Oswestry. Speaker Vince Hunt was at pains to urge brevity in order to get through the business on the agenda. In all it took four hours and three minutes.

The annual report of the Place Overview Scrutiny Committee was presented by its chair Cllr Joyce Barrow. The eleventh and final bullet point was headed “Highways partners’ annual reports” and all that was included was that “The committee receives annual reports from the council’s highways partners, WSP and Kier. Members raised numerous concerns about the existing contract with Kier. However officers were able to provide reassurance that service delivery and budget control were operating as planned.” I was present at the meeting where those annual reports were presented, and I and other Shropshire Councillors were not shy in presenting a picture of what was really happening on the ground in our own Divisions.

Place Overview Scrutiny Committee 7th November 2019

That Scrutiny Committee meeting took place less than a fortnight after a very wet Saturday. The rain had hammered down all night and continued, largely unabated, during 26th October. A Much Wenlock Town Councillor Tweeted a short video of the impact on the A458 outside the Gaskell Arms.

Click to see the Tweeted video clip

Gullies (highway drains) were blocked in many places – on the A458 from Southfield Road through to the petrol filling station, down Farley Road and Sheinton Street on the A4169 and by The Raven Hotel at the junction of Barrow Street and St Mary’s Lane. I became aware on that day that three gullies had recently been cleaned in St Mary’s Lane, but not the one by The Raven. This one was blocked solid and I subsequently learned that four unsuccessful attempts had been made to lift the grid. I’ll repeat that – four unsuccessful attempts by a team that specialises in cleaning gullies…

I subsequently ramped up my concerns about Much Wenlock’s drains – a rapid response surface water flooding catchment. The attenuation ponds at The Sytche and Stretton Road appeared to have worked well on 26th, but plainly the highways would not have been awash to the same extent had the drains been flowing as intended. I walked the interim Head of Highways at Shropshire Council around the key issues in the dying days of October. He was accompanied by the Shropshire manager of Kier, the Council’s term contractor. I think this had some impact, because residents saw the gulley tanker a few days later – in Walton Hills and Oakfield Park. Neither of these estates appeared to have any problems – I know because I’d walked the streets a few days earlier.

Just at the point when I was going to redouble my efforts, a promise was made that the gulley cleaning crew would be in Much Wenlock on Sunday 8th December. Sure enough, they showed up and cleared many gullies, but left three blocked solid within 30 yards of the Gaskell Arms and one at the junction of the A458 and Southfield Road. Among other problems that were left was the inspection chamber in the grass verge above the Lady Forester Nursing Home, which had been spewing water for weeks. The road has been awash and properties, vehicles and pedestrians have been soaked.

By the time that Shropshire Council’s December meeting took place last Thursday, my frustration had reached a new high. I’d submitted a question on highways – you can read it, together with the response from Portfolio Holder for Highways, Shropshire Cllr Steve Davenport here at No. 3.

The gulley crew on the A458 Victoria Road

I had the right to ask a supplementary question, and used it – although it was split into three parts, given that I’d effectively asked three questions.

  1. “The first response doesn’t answer my question, and supplies answers to questions which not only didn’t I pose, but I don’t recognise.
  2. “The second response is opaque and selective. My question didn’t distinguish between capital and revenue works.
  3. “At my advice surgery last week the police told me of fifteen cars parked at the side of the road with burst tyres just outside Bridgnorth, all having hit the same pothole.  The B4368 near Craven Arms was closed last week for emergency repairs to potholes. There is a road just outside Much Wenlock connecting two villages that has effectively been closed by flooding for weeks now. If we can’t keep the roads safe, surely it is better to close them until repairs can be undertaken?”

The oral responses I received have been captured by the Shropshire Star in this article.

So, you’ll see I’m still not satisfied that Shropshire Council’s highways department is providing anywhere the level of service that council taxpayers deserve. Central government funding has been received by Shropshire Council, but precious little evidence of it has been seen in and around Much Wenlock.

Of course, my Division covers a much wider area than the centre of Much Wenlock. Bridge Road, Benthall is still pouring with water which threatens to undermine properties along this deep holloway. And sections of the B4378 are strewn with potholes that keep reopening in the same place. A few hours ago, I drove into Stanton Long from the B4368, along a lane littered with all kinds of holes. The words of one parish councillor with whom I exchanged Christmas wishes in the village still ring in my ears “…nobody appears to listening. 4×4 vehicles are getting to be the only form of transport to use.”

There is one little bit of good news to close this article before the Christmas break. Today I saw the gulley tanker on the A4169 Farley Road. On my return, and hour or more later, the water finally seemed to have stopped flowing out of the inspection chamber on the opposite side of the road. You’d have thought I might have other things on my mind at this time of year, but this actually put a bit of a spring in my step!

Gulley emptying outside Wm Brookes School

To report a highways fault or concern, please use this link or ‘phone 0345 678 9006.