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:

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

Traffic concerns worrying residents

David Walker measuring traffic speed in Whittington and West Felton
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 52mph in that session

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.

Initial Findings

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

One of the better roundels in Queens Head. Many are far worse and next to invisible to a driver.
One of the better roundels in Queens Head. Many are far worse and next to invisible to a driver.

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.


A typical speed in West Felton approaching The Cross
A typical speed in West Felton approaching The Cross

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.

The initial speed observation spreadsheet


David Walker using a speed gun in West Felton
David Walker using a speed gun in West Felton

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.

Education march against Conservative cuts

David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts

This month I have been on two marches organised to defend local services from Conservatives cuts. Strangely, no Conservative MPs were present at the march. Conservative Councillors were in short supply too.

David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts
David Walker & local Lib Dems Marching in Shrewsbury against Shropshire School Cuts
David Walker discussing cuts with BBC reporter, and Lib Dems, including Susan Lockwood, Councillor Heather Kidd and Whittington Councillor, Romer Hoseason
David Walker discussing cuts with BBC reporter, and Lib Dems, including Susan Lockwood, Councillor Heather Kidd and Whittington Councillor, Romer Hoseason

On the 11th I was on the march against £13.4m cuts to schools funding in Shropshire. I joined hundreds of parents, children teachers & concerned members of the public in a March against Conservative school cuts.

As a former Shropshire County Councillor who held an Education Portfolio in the Cabinet, I know how important good education is.

Having a good education is vital for our children’s future life choices. It is the foundation of our economy. We need a well-educated population to improve overall productivity, create wealth and jobs. In the new post-Brexit world this will be even more important!

Schools serving Whittington & West Felton are going to lose nearly £1m by 2020 and Shropshire faces losing £13.4m across the county. These figures have been estimated by the NUT.

Shropshire needs fair funding. I made this call a decade ago when I was a councillor. Other areas like ours have consistently received more money than Shropshire for a long time. Despite reviews claiming to bring fair funding Shropshire always misses out. With Conservatives controlling the Government and Shirehall,  you would think they would work together and get this issue sorted out. If we got anything like the money Cornwall gets we wouldn’t see anything like the funding problems we do now.

Shropshire Conservatives cost schools extra – over £1m

The Conservative Government are also cutting over £500,000 from our schools. This is on top of the £13.4m. From April our schools are being forced to pay the Apprenticeship Levy. Shropshire Lib Dems asked the Tory Administration to lobby the government to exempt schools but they voted against it.

The Conservative government have scrapped the Educational Support Grant worth £1.2m – local Conservatives councillors voted down a budget amendment from the Lib Dems to scrap £643,000 of local cuts by using money from the Council’s large computing budget.

I am really angry that the Conservatives are clawing back, even more money from our local schools. Money is tight as it is. On top of all this, schools are also seeing rises in the farcical Business Rate changes coming next April. Whittington Primary school rates are going up 22% & West Felton Primary school rates are going up 15%. I imagine the business rate rises will get covered somewhere, so the schools don’t pay it directly, but somebody has to pay it. Schools should be zero rated.

The definition of a false economy.

Business Rates changes are a farce

Shops face a big % rise in business rates

The word is that the Conservatives are now contemplating backsliding on their Business Rates review in the face of a growing backlash.

Sign of things to come if the Conservatives don't get a grip of business rates?
Sign of things to come if the Conservatives don’t get a grip of business rates? Cross Street empty shops – more about high rents and rates than whether the road is open to cars or not.

Conservatives introduced the changes to help rebalance the economy and have been assuring everybody for months that 75% of business wouldn’t be affected or would see their rates drop. In January, Andy Boddington, Lib Dem County Councillor for Ludlow, exposed the massive detrimental impact the changes were going to have on the retail economy of Ludlow. You can read his blog posts on the subject here: April business rate hike could permanently damage the retail economy of towns like Ludlow, and here: Mixed fortunes and trouble ahead after changes to Ludlow’s business rates. His research was picked up by the local press and radio, and then the national media picked up the issue facing Ludlow.

This has developed into a national problem reported widely by the national media. Reports are that the Chancellor is now facing a backlash from Conservative MPs who have been feeling the heat from Business facing extortionate rises.

Andy’s figures make grim reading for Ludlow and the other Market Towns of Shropshire. Massive, punitive business rate rises are not just a story for urban areas in Shropshire. The pain is also being felt in rural areas too. If the Conservatives continue to get this wrong then more shops and business will close and cease trading. Cross Street’s empty shops are that way because of high rents and rates. Spending £50k on bollards or removing the bollards won’t help get those premises filled. Street Scene enhancement and realistic rents and rates would make a bigger difference. Let’s hope Cross Street isn’t the tip of an iceberg.

Whittington and West Felton businesses are also feeling the pinch as they face their new rates in April. In the SY11 4 postcode district, which is almost exactly the same as the County Division boundary for Whittington Division, the average business rate change for 195 businesses is a 38% rise. Some businesses can have a compound effect where they have a cash machine on the premises. Such businesses can get charged business rates for the main business plus a separate bill for the cash machine itself.

A few lowlights:

  • average business rate change for 195 businesses is a 38% rise
  • The biggest % rise is seen by Rednal Karting with a whopping 223% rise
  • Mile End filling station is going up by 71%
  • The Ironworks is going up by 58%
  • Holiday cottage businesses are going up by 113%
  • Brynallt Kennels facing a rise by 98%
  • Workshops are facing a rather modest rise of 33%
  • Shops face a rise of 209%
  • Hairdressing & Salons face a rise of 210%
Shops face a rise of over 200% in business rates
Shops face a rise of over 200% in business rates

Over the last few days, there have been reports about how the Government is going to make appealing harder.  However, businesses have been telling me that they have huge issues with appealing already and that Shropshire Council isn’t very helpful and somewhat obstructive in the process. Shropshire Council is only the collection authority but surely they can be more sensitive and direct businesses to where and how they can appeal.

There was already huge disquiet with Business rates and the inherent fairness of the valuations. At Rednal Karting they would like a fairer assessment. When they compare themselves to other similar Karting venues they are severely penalised and have been frustrated in getting the valuation appealed.

If the Government does back down it would be welcome but if it is simply a tweak of the transitional arrangements that wouldn’t be a satisfactory outcome. The current suggested transitional arrangements are geared towards larger businesses. Business Rates need a comprehensive root and branch review to make sure that the system is fair to everybody, not just those at the top and the bottom.

In the post-Brexit world, we need to be doing more than ever to support the economy and help businesses make the transition thrive, not penalising businesses.