Oswestry Maternity Unit Saga Drags on

Residents, parents, local Conservatives, Lib Dems & Greens continue to express outrage as the ongoing Oswestry Maternity Unit saga drags on. After a prolonged closure due to staff shortages at Telford – when expectant and recovering mothers were expected to use Telford or Wrexham units instead – we are now into a new set of more temporary closures. This ran for several months last year.

Whilst these suspensions are more than just frustrating for the parents they may also be a cynical ploy to run the service down to the point where the Midwife-Led Units close. Repeated suspensions aren’t good for parent’s peace of mind at critical times of pre and post-natal care. Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. MLUs should be open 24/7.

Oswestry Maternity Unit Saga Drags on. David outside the Oswestry Maternity Unit said: "Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. MLUs should be open 24/7"
David outside the Oswestry Maternity Unit said: “Parents rightly expect to plan ahead and this mess can’t continue. MLUs should be open 24/7”

SaTH is seeking people’s views on temporary suspensions, and whether rotating 4-week suspensions of inpatient services is a ‘Good’ solution to the staff shortages problem.

If you are on Facebook and you haven’t signed up to follow the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit page then I would urge you to sign up and support the campaign to keep the MLU open 24/7.

Oswestry Maternity Unit saga drags on. David Walker marshalling at the 2nd march against closures last year
Marshalling at the 2nd march against closures last year

36 years to change a light bulb

LED Street Light at Whittington Level Crossing

Better street lighting plan thrown out by Conservatives

This is despite Shropshire Council officers saying upgrades will take 36 years at present rate.

It shouldn't take 36 years to change 18,500 lightbulbs. Above is a recently replaced light in West Felton with an older sodium light in the background. New lights are brighter and more energy efficient
It shouldn’t take 36 years to change 18,500 lightbulbs. Above is a recently replaced light in West Felton with an older sodium light in the background. New lights are brighter and more energy efficient

Large numbers of councils across the UK, including Shropshire’s parish councils, are upgrading their lights to save money on repairs, and energy bills, reduce carbon emissions, light pollution, and crime, and to improve public safety.

Local residents often complain about poor lighting

A recent initiative by Liberal Democrats to convert Shropshire Council’s remaining 7456 street lights to brighter energy-saving LED bulbs within 3 years was thrown out by the Conservatives at a recent meeting of Shropshire Council.

At the present rate officers have said it will take:
36 years to upgrade them!

The Lib Dem move was blocked by Conservatives even though the bulbs that fit our present unconverted lamps will stop being made in June of next year.

At a total cost of £2.05m over three years or just £683k per year, the plan would have saved Shropshire Council £149,120 every year at today’s prices. Once completed, this would give a whopping 7.5% return on the investment. This saving would increase in future years as energy cost rise.

Instead, Tory-run Shropshire has spent £51m on buying shopping centres in Shrewsbury when shopping centres are in decline. Many suggest that present-day rental income will go down. The Council’s Administration also plans to spend another £18m on improving their headquarters in Shirehall.

Contrast that with Kent County Council where Bouyges ‘provided LED street lights for FREE’ clawing the cost back through maintenance contract yet will save £5.2m a year on their energy bills!! Kent County Council is run by the Conservatives.

Shropshire Council Conservatives really need a more enlightened approach to street lights. Taking so long to address a problem when the solution is easy is just plain daft.

Did you know?

  • Councils spend 30% of the annual energy bill on Street Lighting;
  • Savings of 50%-80% on energy bill can be made by switching;
  • LED lights last for 24 years – 7x longer than Sodium lights;
  • LED Light is direct making sure light only goes where needed.

Since last August I have been working with fellow councillors on West Felt on to upgrade the lights owned by them. Hopefully, we can crack on with the upgrade soon and start reaping the benefits.

Read more on streetlight upgrades here: LED street lights must be rolled out

Growing traffic & pothole problems vs £5m cuts in roads

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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.  Yet the Conservatives solution is to make £5m cuts in roads in 2018/19 and in 2019/20!

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 particular, is getting worse. Bad when you consider where Shropshire was already worse than England average.

£5m cuts in roads in 2018/19 and 2019/20

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.
Today Shropshire council has announced a grant for the Government of £1.86m for pothole repairs. The government announced They previously announced £1.34m of that last year. The additional money is very welcome. However, it quite literally doesn’t even touch the sides compared to the scale of the cuts being made.
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.
Google Street view of the pothole in March 2009
Google Street view of the repaired pothole in March 2009
Pothole at Queens Head in March 2009 - Google photo. Previously repair of pothole coloured Green
Another Google view of the repaired pothole – coloured Green

Fast forward 9 years and look at how the pothole has grown!

Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018.
Pothole at Queens Head 25th of February 2018. Green is another previous repair attempt. Orange indicates the area of the old repair that has been scrubbed away exposing the binding layer. Red is the area where the scrubbing is so severe that the sub-base is now exposed.
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.
March 13 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair it isn't the best
13th of March 2018: Compacted loose chippings have been used to fill in the pothole. Even for a temporary repair, it isn’t the best as the puddles indicate. In this situation that repair will only last for a few days.

 So I went to have another look a few days later and recorded the above video on the 22nd of March.

By the 22nd of March the temporary repair was already being dug out
By the 22nd of March, the temporary repair was already being dug out

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, West Felton 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:

  • 2014: 188 pothole claims. 25 claims against Highways insurance amounted to £31,000.
  • 2015: 159 pothole claims. There were 46 injuries caused by potholes and they paid out £20,721.50 on 6 of those claims.
  • 2016: 179 Pothole claims, 11 of which they accepted liability and paid out over £20,000.
  • 2017: 106 pothole claims.

Update: 2018 Jan – May
Pothole claims shot up by 653% to 798 claims
The total cost of claims rose by staggering 845% to nearly £345,000

Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction in West Felton has grown considerably due to poor roads maintenance and repairs
Pothole at Queens Head/Rednal Mile Junction in West Felton (taken on 25th February 2018)
£m cuts in roads will lead to more pot hole problems. Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.
Sub-base aggregate (projectiles) from the pothole thrown across the road and pavement by vehicles presents a hazard and a danger to all road users and adjoining properties.

Pothole Formation

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.

Public Domain image from Wikipedia

 

Smartwater coming to West Felton Parish

West Felton Parish Council is 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 are further reduced it should translate into lower insurance premiums for residents.

Smartwater signs will be going up around West Felton Parsih
Signs like these will go up across the parish to deter thieves from West Felton

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

Introducing Smartwater and parish notice inviting residents to claim their free kit

LED Street Lights in West Felton [updated] [updated] [updated]

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.

 

AirBand & Shropshire Council agree WiFi broadband roll-out deal

David Walker by a BT cabinet in West Felton

Yesterday Shropshire Council announced that they had agreed to a £11.2 million contract with AirBand, a Worcester Broadband company, to help supply Broadband to hard to reach Rural Places.

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.

As I was typing this up I heard on Radio 5 about the research that the BBC had been undertaking to open up TV White Space and Microsofts plans to use this technology in Africa. This uses spare analogue UHF TV signal from the digital TV switchover.  This has huge advantages over Microwave technology that Upton Amgna used to get in that it doesn’t need a direct line of sight, is unaffected by adverse weather, obstacles, trees or hills. Carlson Wireless has a very good website explaining the UHF technology.

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.

 

MLU protest march II

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.

This was the second protest march. The first was back in March Shropshire MLU marches & SaTH meeting

Mopping up casework from the Election

Need help or advice? David Walker talking to residents about their concerns

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. Casework from the election:

  • Speeding and traffic particularly on Station Road, Top Street, Boot Street in Whittington, Babbinswood and Queens Head.
Casework from the election: - speeding: Just one of the highest speeds recorded in Queens Head - the highest was 52 in that session
Just one of the highest speeds recorded in Queens Head – the highest was 52 in that session
  • Parking issues particularly around Station Road and Three Trees in Whittington, and at the Cross in West Felton, when the school opens and closes
    Casework from the election: - Traffic & parking: The pinch point on Station Road causes traffic problems, damage to parked cars and near misses for pedestrians as vehicles mount pavement
    The pinch point on Station Road causes traffic problems, damage to parked cars and near misses for pedestrians as vehicles mount pavement
  • 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.
    Casework from the election: - traffic safety: Broken blind spot mirror is a problem for residents and a traffic safety issue
    Broken blindspot mirror is a problem for residents and a traffic safety issue. Reported
    The sign was broken as far back as September 2016 on Google Street view. For something with safety implications it should have been fixed by now
    The sign was broken as far back at least far as September 2016 on Google Street view. For something with safety implications, it should have been fixed by now
  • Again on Station Road, residents complained about a collapsing manhole and loose lid making noise.
    Casework from the election: - Manhole collapsing in Station Road - sprayed up in election period. Trying to look like it was going to be fixed?
    Manhole collapsing in Station Road – sprayed up in the election period. Trying to look like it was going to be fixed? No surprise is still isn’t fixed
  • 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
    Casework from the election: - badly positioned roadsigns: These National Speed limit signs are in the wrong place and need moving further along Berghill Lane to the end of the houses
    These National Speed limit signs are in the wrong place and need moving further along Berghill Lane to the end of the houses
  • 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.
    Casework from the election: Fly-tipping in Park Hall from a Shropshire Council owned site
    Fly-tipping in Park Hall originating from a Shropshire Council owned site
  • 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.
Casework from the election: - missing footpath: Considering the needs of residents to accessing The Venue, Park Hall by foot, Burma Rd with no footpath is definitely a problem
Considering the needs of residents in accessing The Venue, Park Hall by foot, Burma Rd with no footpath is definitely a problem
Parents and Supporters on MLU protest march on the same stretch with no footpath illustrate the problem for pedestrians
Parents and Supporters on MLU protest march on the same stretch with no footpath illustrates the problem for pedestrians

Thank you

David Walker in West Felton

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

Full results are here: http://new.shropshire.gov.uk/elections-and-electoral-registration/voting-and-elections/local-elections-may-2017/unitary-results-may-4-2017/

West Felton Parish Council results tomorrow

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

Shropshire MLU marches & SaTH meeting

David Walker enjoying the atmosphere and the weather at the Oswestry MLU protest

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.

Protesters marching through the park
Protesters marching through the park

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.

If you haven’t signed the petitions of the Government website yet here are the links to both petitions:

Save Oswestry Maternity Unit

Save Bridgnorth and Ludlow Maternity Units

Both petitions are currently running at about 2,200 online signatures at the time of writing this. There are the same again on the paper petition.

Follow the campaign on the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit Facebook Group