The state of the roads and the growing pothole problem has once again been featured by the national and local media. For decades Shropshire has had a reputation for poor roads, often readily apparent to road users as they crossed the county border. For Shropshire, they have a colossal road network with some 3,138 miles of road, which has always proven a challenge to maintain. Nearly 3x the bigger the national average and more than double the average for the West Midlands.
This chart and the ones that follow are based on Government OpenData
One big problem Shropshire Council has is that it doesn’t know the age of its roads!
Every road has a life expectancy – roughly 20-40 years depending on traffic levels. This can be extended by a further 20 years by overlaying or planing off and relaying the top layers. Surface dressing or chipping can extend the life expectancy by 5 years at a time. Eventually, every road needs to be dug up and relayed to reset the clock back to zero. They would need to undertake a massive coring program to have a better idea. So they are stuck in a costly and inefficient cycle of temporary resurfacing. In the short-term re-chipping costs about 1/6th of planing. All of these lifespan numbers vary with traffic volume, axle weights, construction and material quality.
Shropshire hasn’t been great at keeping on top of its road maintenance for years. This shows up most when you compare the condition of the roads across networks with planned work. The % of roads that should have been flagged for maintenance for A roads in Shropshire is about average at 4%. The average in England is 3%. However, for B and C roads is 11% and nearly double the average in England. This shows where Shropshire is spending its maintenance money or more significantly where it is not.
The trend for England is downwards but the Trend for Shropshire on B and C roads in particularly is getting worse. Bad when you consider where Shropshire was already worse than England average.
The Conservatives on Shropshire Council have a £59m black hole in their budget. One way they decided to fix this was by cutting the roads budget by £5m in 2018/19 and another £5m in 2019/20. Potty, given the state of the roads. All road users in Shropshire can see the steady decline in the condition of our roads.
As traffic volumes increase and road maintenance budget reduces, the roads will decay more quickly and the pothole problem will accelerate. This situation is unsustainable. Delays in fixing our roads will only mean higher maintenance costs in the long run. This has been happening for decades because they don’t know how old our roads are but this situation will only get dramatically worse. This will potentially lead to higher insurance claims and more accidents where the condition of the road is a factor.
The Government and Shropshire Council needs to take a proper grip of the situation or the bills for repairs will grow exponentially. Compared to Other areas Shropshire like all other central funding has always had a bad deal.
Queens Head Pothole is dangerous
Take the pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile junction as an example:
In March 2009 the pothole was roughly 1/3 of the size it is now.
Fast forward 9 years and look at how the pothole has grown!
Substandard maintenance, poor materials, excessive wear from the traffic heading to ABP are all a factor in its growth. This sort of damage doesn’t happen overnight. The damage is so severe that the underlying sub-base is exposed. The sub-base is loose aggregate which can be seen scattered across the road. This presents a danger to all road users and an increased skidding risk. Tear wear increases the damage to the road, as more loose material is dug out, as the wheels spin due to lower traction.
I reported the pothole as dangerous to Shirehall. By the 13th of March, the pothole had been temporarily filled in with compacted loose chippings.
So I went to have another look a few days later and recorded the above video on the 22nd of March.
Traffic volumes 2000-2016
(2017 data gets added in May/June 2018)
Cars and particularly Vans are trending upwards at an accelerating rate, whilst HGVs are ticking down.
Excluding the cars shows the upward trend in LGV or Vans. HGVs are trending down but there is a small uptick in 2015-16.
Drilling into the HGVs a bit further… HGV with bigger axel numbers are increasing…
Excluding the 2 axle and 3/4 axle articulated lorries we can see that the trend is clearly up for HGVs with the workload of the former now done by Vans
Overall this shows is the impact of online shopping on journeys and supports what we all know – that retail shops are under severe pressure and that Royal mail delivers many more parcels and fewer letters as more shopping is done online.
What that means for Whittington and beyond is worse roads for years to come unless something dramatic happens. Unlikely without a change at local and national level. More expenditure that is out of control and more costly insurance claims.
Pothole insurance claims:
2013/14 188 pothole claims. 25 claims against Highways insurance amounted to £31,000.
2015/16 There were 46 injuries caused by potholes and they paid out £20,721.50 on 6 of those claims.
2016/2017 182 Pothole claims, 11 of which they accepted liability and paid out over £20,000.
General wear and tear on roads from increased axle weight, increased traffic volumes, combined with adverse weather conditions – be that too hot or too cold leading to binding tar drying out with age, can all lead to tiny fissures forming in a road surface.
Water penetrated into the surface and freezes. This pushes up the road surface in cold weather. Once this thaws the void below collapse the road when traffic drives across the voids and fissures. Over time the road crumbles or collapses into the voids producing the pothole – initially quite small. Successively this process continues and the hole progressively gets bigger. Once a weakness has formed as standing water in it will explode outwards under compression by a tyre further accelerating the growth of the hole through explosive percussion. Once the pothole is formed the surface with be loose and present a skidding risk as well as a hazard for all road users.
West Felton Parish Council are inviting householders in the Parish to come along to the Village Hall in the upcoming month to receive their FREE ‘Smartwater’ kit enabling you to mark your valuables which, if stolen, can then be traced directly to your home.
Smartwater allows residents to mark their homes and property with water that is unique chemically coded their address. This water shows up under ultra-violet light. In the event of a theft and subsequent recovery of property by the Police, the unique code of the water means that the stolen property can be returned to the rightful owner. The Police are providing signs to go up across the parish to deter thieves.
Ultimately this will free up thin police resources away from petty theft to more important policing. If crimes of this sort is further reduced it should translate into lower insurance premiums for residents.
The initial roll-out of this system, which has the backing and support of the local policing team will be held in 2 sessions:
Between 7pm and 9pm on Monday 4th December;
and Between 10am and 1pm on Saturday 9th December
During the run-up to May’s election residents complained to me about the broken blindspot mirror on Station Road next to the level crossing.
Mopping up election casework had to wait until after the general election had finished as I was the Agent for Hannah Fraser in Shrewsbury in the General Election. I reported the sign to Shropshire Council on the 1st of July with fixmystreet.
This mirror had been broken for quite a while apparently and is a pain for residents coming out of the junction seeing traffic approaching from the right. This is quite a dangerous situation for vehicles emerging from the junction if their view is restricted.
I am pleased it is now fixed and the risk to residents has been reduced.
Owing to having too much money in balances at West Felton Parish Council, the need for a proper financial plan was raised by another member. This appeared on the August agenda and I asked that LED street lighting was placed into the mix. Given that LED street lights produce a revenue savings year on year, in an 80% reduction in the energy bill and the ongoing maintenance bill. A saving that could be used to reduce the precept and parishes element resident’s council tax.
Regrettably, I was working away the week of the meeting and gave my apologies.
At the September meeting, I talked about the report from the Green Investment Bank that I had shared with the Clerk prior to the August meeting. This can be seen in the in my LED Street lights must be rolled out article. One of the members asked for a detailed breakdown of the costs and that the list of lights needed updating. A task I agreed to do for the next meeting.
I have sent an updated list of the Street Lights owned by the parish as a Fusion Table and Map for the Clerk to add to the Parish Council’s website, along with a break down of the costs ahead of tomorrow’s October meeting.
I have also reported to the clerk that a number of lights on The Avenue aren’t working.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, members hadn’t seen it prior to the meeting so it was agreed to discuss the figures at the next meeting. (The figures were distributed on November 5th.) I mentioned during the debate about the lights out on the avenue and tried to persuade members to replace all 39 lights with LEDs as this would be more cost-effective just than replacing the broken lights on The Avenue. Members were torn with some only wanting to address the broken lights. The clerk was asked to ask Highline to survey the lights.
UPDATE 2: At the November Meeting on the 14th we again discussed the lights at length. I again raised the lights that were still out on the Avenue and pointed out that another light was also down at The Wheatlands junction. Highline came back with their fees for upgrading the lights to LEDs. Figures for individual lights were comparable with the numbers I had previously supplied. Indeed if all 39 were upgraded it would have been less than my estimate. Highline have been instructed to make the repairs.
UPDATE 3: As we head to the December meeting next week the broken lights on the Avenue still are out of action 19 weeks or 2 months after I first reported them! I had forgotten how frustratingly slow Council decision making and processes can be. Considering that we are at the darkest part of the year if these lights were actually needed when they were first installed then they need sorting quickly. As for the rest of the lights, I remain of the view that the savings outway any reason for further delay. We have already squandered a big chunk of the energy bill savings we could have started to build up this winter.
Given the shockingly slow rollout of Superfast Broadband to rural areas by BT Openreach this is welcome news. Some places are already receiving Ultrafast Broadband and we are still rocking and rolling with basic Broadband or Fibre Broadband Connections. Diversification of the technology and the supply is a welcome addition in terms of consumer choice. Residents can now register their interest in the system here: AirBand Register your interest
As with the previous introduction of new broadband technologies and campaigns that I have been involved in, like the campaign we led in Bridgnorth that ultimately brought broadband to Bridgnorth in 2002, the more people who pre-register their interest in the service then the quicker the service is rolled out in an area.
Currently the only alternative method of getting Broadband into hard to reach areas is to use Satelite Broadband from providers like Tooway. We used Tooway at work at our offices in Upton Magna for a few years and found the service to be good on the whole. Prior to that Upton Magna received broader internet through a Microwave link to the Wrekin. This was later superceded by ISDN. We fumbled along with multiple ISDN lines for a while.
The main downside of Satelite Broadband was the lag as the data/webpage request had to travel via satellite to Italy and back. This produces a perceptible lag which is no good to real-time applications like online gaming. However, for most people and us the delay wasn’t noticeable when browsing or transferring files. The data bandwidth was good so the data travelling in big chunks. So pages loaded instantly, if after a tiny delay. Having said all of that, once Superfast Broadband came to Upton Magna late in 2015 we dropped it straight away. We now get 80mbps per line there.
Hopefully, the AirBand technology will be using the same TV White Space technology to broadcast the signal into the very hardest to reach crevices in the county. If that is the case then this is very welcome news indeed.
Yesterday supporters of the MLU joined a march in support of keeping the MLU open without any service reduction. The march started at The Bailey Head and from Gobowen Station and converging at the MLU.
I volunteered as a Marshal for the March from The Bailey Head.
The march was extremely well supported and plenty of media coverage on the day. In glorious weather, we made our way via Burma Road, Park Hall and received plenty of support along the route.
The march was to protest at the ‘temporary’ closure of the units in Oswestry, Ludlow and Bridgnorth in order to prioritise the units at Telford, and at the proposed introduction of an on-call midwife system across rural Shropshire.
Over the course of the election and the months, beforehand, a number of issues were brought to my attention that still needs attention. Despite losing the County Election I will continue to work with residents to improve the situation. Given the lack of action previously this will keep me busy for a while.
Speeding and traffic particularly on Station Road, Top Street, Boot Street in Whittington, Babbinswood and Queens Head.
Parking issues particularly around Station Road and Three Trees in Whittington, and at the Cross in West Felton, when the school opens and closes
Broken blind spot mirror on Station Road junction by level crossing was reported to me. This mirror has been broken for quite a while apparently and is a pain for residents coming out of the junction seeing traffic approaching from the right. This is quite dangerous so I reported it straight away.
Again on Station Road, residents complained about a collapsing manhole and loose lid making noise.
Speeding traffic past the houses on Berghill Lane Babbinswood and vehicles using the lane as a Rabbit Run. Residents had complained that traffic was speeding past the houses and had previously complained. It is obvious to me that these Signs are far too near the junction with the B5009 and provide scant protection or amenity to residents on Berghill Lane
Fly-tipping in the Woods between Inglis Road and The Venue, Parkhall. Resident in Park Hall complained to me that they couldn’t let their kids play in the woods anymore because of the fly-tipping and the potential worry of needles in the rubbish. The fact that the source of the rubbish is a site owned by Shropshire Council makes Shropshire Council’s inability to clear up this mess laughable.
The need for a footpath on the missing section of Burma Road, Park Hall. This is problem pedestrians accessing the Venue or further afield along this road.
Thank you to everybody who voted yesterday and especially so to those who vote for me. I exceed my minimum expectations in an area not worked properly before and where I was unknown before. Plenty of analysis to do but clearly, there is plenty to build on for next time.
Charmley, Steve Conservative 613 53.44%
Goff, Edward David Green 152 13.25%
Jones, Christopher Lee Independent 84 7.32%
Walker, David Liberal Democrats 298 25.98%
Total votes: 1147
Update 6th May 2017: Back home after a long session of parish council counts. Pleased to say I have been elected on to West Felton Parish Council. So the wait was worth it. Thank you to everybody who voted
Last Saturday, 25th of March, LibDems joined hundreds of parents, children and concerned Shropshire residents to march against the threat to downgrade Shropshire’s Maternity Units. SaTH had previously produced a report as part of their budget which identified downgrading the units to Birthing Units, where expectant mothers would need to make an appointment to give birth at night.
Oswestry and Bridgnorth both had a march on Saturday. Ludlow had previously held a march to support their unit. Both were extremely well attended and the weather was glorious.
In Bridgnorth, they marched through the High Street to the Castle Grounds. Whilst in Oswestry they met in Cae Glas Park and paraded around the park. Both marches had a great turn out. Thank you to everybody who organised the marches and who attended to show their support.
The MLUs needs to stay open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Expectant mothers can’t be expected to deliver to order and to an appointment. Many sources have responded to campaigners that the MLUs aren’t going to be downgraded. Campaigners have remained cynical and kept up the pressure and the protest. The marches just being one element of that protest.
Late yesterday it emerged that SaTH were still going to go ahead with the downgrading the MLUs to a Birthing Units. The report for today’s board meeting shows that they aren’t going to be open at night, except for mothers already in labour. Anybody who going into labour will either have to go elsewhere in an ambulance or potentially deliver in a car. Delivery can’t be planned to that extent so this policy is bonkers. Campaigners are rightly angry that they won’t have the same access to postnatal care after the downgrade.
After my last Focus, the feedback I received via text, survey, email or on the doorstep had a consistent theme… traffic, speeding, parking and the high number of HGVs. Park Hall, Whittington, Babbinswood, Queens Head and West Felton having specific problems. Speeding has previously been highlighted as a problem in the Whittington Parish Plan. Similar issues over parking were identified in the West Felton Parish Plan. Namely, parking by the school and the shop, the need for double yellow lines and the use of the Punch Bowl car park to alleviate that.
Talking to residents on Station Road and Boot Street in Whittington, the HGVs are a particular concern. With many accidents and near misses as lorries pass through the town, with pedestrians nearly being blown off the pavements or nearly being hit by cars driving along the pavements trying to avoid a lorry.
Poorly located signage also came up as an issue in West Felton and Babbinswood. Another issue was speeding cars harassing motorists who were obeying the speed limit, including one instance of a driver gesticulating at a probationary driver.
So armed with a speed gun I went out to see for myself what the problems were.
I found speeding across the division. The most excessive speeds over the speed limit recorded are shown below, along with the 85th percentile speed and the average:
Babbinswood – 66mph in a 40mph speed limit. 85th percentile = 46mph Average = 40mph Queens Head – 52mph in a 30mph speed limit. 85th percentile = 39mph Average = 35mph West Felton – 44mph in a 30mph speed limit. 85th percentile = 36mph Average = 32mph Whittington – 42mph in a 30mph speed limit. 85th percentile = 36mph Average = 32mph
The differences are down to the geography and the conditions on the road. Both Boot Street and Holyhead Road have flashing reminder signs and some calming measures. Babbinswood doesn’t have anything. Queens Head has 30mph roundels marked on the road. However, these are in very poor condition and need refreshing.
When I was a County Councillor I was one of the members that sat on the task and finish group that reviewed village speed limits. One of the findings was that flashing reminder signs were particularly effective in reducing excessive speed. Over time the effect diminishes as drivers get used to seeing the signs. The most effective signs were moveable flashing signs as they reduced this drop-off. They also allow the signs to move around the villages and reduce the cost of using them significantly. The differences in the speeding Between Queens Head and West Felton clearly shows the benefit of flashing signs.
I recorded speeds using standard practice for a speed survey, measuring traffic in free flow conditions. The speed of a vehicle was only recorded for the first vehicle in a queue, for example, as the remainder of the queue isn’t driving in ‘free flow’ conditions. Speeds were measured by random sample for an hour at a time until sufficient observations were made. Some sites were revisited at another time of day. Figures generally recorded in either rush-hour weren’t included because they weren’t in ‘free flow’ conditions. They do have some use for me though in assessing the prevailing conditions.
My biggest conclusion is that I need to do this again. So I will be out again to gather more data. It is quite apparent from what I have seen and measured that speed in Babbinswood and Queens Head, in particular, can be tackled and be self-enforcing. The Police would insist on any scheme being self-enforcing as they don’t have the resources. Introducing moveable flashing signs, narrowing and other driver reminders and renewing roundels will improve matters considerably.
Existing signage can be improved by relocating some of the signs. The flashing sign on the north side of West Felton needs moving the other side of Dovaston Court as drivers are only slowing down after this junction. In Babbinswood on Berghill Lane, the National Speed Limit signs at the B5009 junction need moving away from the junction to the end of the houses on Berghill Lane. Residents have complained that this road is a rat run to/from Ellesmere Road. This simple move would stop the speeding past these houses.
The absence of ‘free flow’ conditions also has some implications for the amenity of residents. The council uses speed limits for safety but it is also has a responsibility for the safety of pedestrians and the amenity of residents. Schemes aren’t just about safety they are also about improving the area we live in.
Shropshire Council’s contractor, Ringway, taking 2 years to get double yellow lines implemented is far too long. 84 sites of concern were raised with Shropshire Council in 2015/16 but ONLY 10 were implemented. Only a maximum of 8 schemes will get funding this year. If the Conservatives are re-elected then projected reductions in the Highways budget threaten even this paltry effort.
If I get elected on May the 4th, I would aim to get more done to improve traffic calming and reduce excessive speed. More can and should be done than the Conservatives are managing.