Broadband by the numbers

David Walker by a BT cabinet in West Felton
David Walker by a BT cabinet in West Felton
David Walker by a BT cabinet in West Felton

Many moons ago – 15 years ago to be exact – when I was a Councillor for Bridgnorth, I campaigned long and hard to get broadband to Bridgnorth. Eventually, Bridgnorth got onto the list for pre-registration in 2002. BT set a high a trigger-level of 750 before they would consider enabling broadband at the exchange. Again I campaigned to get people to register and get Bridgnorth over BT’s interest trigger level. This culminated in Bridgnorth passing the ADSL trigger-level in February 2003 and a lot earlier than other places. The Exchange was enabled the following May. As a County Councillor, I also worked to see the roll-out of Broad Places.

Back then I said: “Securing broadband will lead to a massive economic boost for Bridgnorth. Improving the access and the speed of communication for businesses and home users will create new opportunities for job creation.” Times have changed, but this still holds very true today. The fact we are still lagging behind other areas is not good.

Speeds around Whittington

Over the last decade, across all sectors of the economy, services have shifted online as broadband access became more widely available. Businesses have made efficiency savings and opened up their business to whole new markets. Public bodies followed suit. Now the expectation is that services are delivered online. It hasn’t all been good news, with increased social isolation and lower customer ‘face-time’ leading to remoteness and in some cases a drop in customer satisfaction.

Speeds around West Felton

Throughout this process, and of particular concern to me, is the rural bias BT operates by. Rural areas pay the same charges as our Urban counterparts, yet the service we receive is always far worse.  As services switch to online, poor access to the internet is a real handicap for businesses and individuals in rural areas. The have-nots left in rural desserts or ‘not spots’ left unable to do the basics or having to put up with a reduced service. Shropshire Council has been paying BT to roll out Fibre Broadband into rural areas. Yet now we are in the realms of Super Fast Fibre Broadband. Currently, only 47% of exchanges in Shropshire can deliver Super Fast Broadband.

Having moved to Aston Moors, West Felton I was shocked at the broadband speed Sandra and Lily received: An abysmal 1.5mbps. After looking at the subsidies available through connecting Shropshire, we were told we didn’t qualify so we upgraded to Fibre to achieve the heady heights of 7.5mbps…. An incredibly slow speed for fibre and even for bog standard broadband.  I have previously received 20mbps in Bridgnorth 5 years ago. At work, fibre came to the village of Upton Magna two years ago and we enjoy a speed of 75mbps at our offices.

Take a look at any rural area on the think broadband website and the disparity from area to area in Shropshire is huge. At a time when services are online, and Councils & service providers expect/require you to access their services that way… At a time when businesses need to be as competitive as possible, locally and internationally… At a time when public expectations for how services should be delivered… Such poor access is a real barrier to Shropshire economic success and runs the very real danger of leaving many vulnerable people in rural areas more isolated than ever.

Many areas are now getting Ultra Fast Broadband. If Shropshire’s economy is to properly compete with other counties in the UK, or globally, in the post-brexit world, we need faster access and 100% roll our of Super Fast Broadband, and we need it quickly.

Check out the numbers for your postcode here: Think broadband postcode search

Let me know what you think of your broadband speed.

Broadband by the numbers: Whittington and West Felton Parishes

Let’s put some numbers on the broadband access in our area.

  • There are 3 exchanges that cover our area: Queens Head, Oswestry and Knockin.
  • Oswestry and Knockin have Super Fast Broadband, Queens Head does not.
  • North Shropshire has Estimated Maximum Mean Download Speed: 41.6 Mbps (compared to 130.5 Mbps for the UK)
  • North Shropshire ADSL connections get an average speed of 6.9mbps
  • North Shropshire Fibre (FTTC) connections get an average speed of 30.8mb
  • North Shropshire Super Fast Broadband coverage: 78.4% (compared with 91.8% for the UK)
  • North Shropshire Ultra Fast Broadband coverage: 1.52% (compared with 51.27% for the UK)
  • Only 47% of exchanges in Shropshire can deliver Super Fast Broadband.

Local Plan partial review

David Walker by another unplanned site in West Felton in 2017
David Walker, a Land Surveyor, at one of the many unplanned housing sites.
David Walker, a Land Surveyor by profession, at one of the many unplanned housing sites on Holyhead Road.

A couple of weeks ago Shropshire Council launched their review into the Local Plan (known as SamDev) and have launched a consultation.

The review will identify how much housebuilding and employment development will take place in the County until 2036, and where it will go. It will also look at the boundaries of the Green Belt, which is protected from development. Sites to build 17,000 homes in the County by 2026 have already been identified, and it is proposed that the updated plan will identify further sites to enable an additional 11,000 to 13,000 homes will be built over the next 20 years.

Why is this important?

This is likely to be the only real opportunity residents and Parish Councils to comment and make representations on it. There will be very limited if any opportunity to comment on submissions made by developers.  Due to lack of time and more significantly a lack of staff available to do the work. Once the plan is amended it will be very hard to alter sites or object to development on these sites.

Current SHLAA sites adopted in Whittington
Current SHLAA sites adopted in Whittington

Coupled with this consultation is the ‘Call for sites’ in addition to those adopted in the 2014 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA).  Whilst No sites were adopted in West Felton, or Whittington, several were earmarked in Whittington (appendix 4) with long-term potential or potential. These sites will be back in the mix no doubt in this consultation. But history has shown how this can change in an unplanned way.

SamDev has had a troubled history already

We have seen to our cost already how the Conservatives made a mess of SamDev. SamDev was delayed for 2 years leaving the Council with no 5-year land supply. This meant many sites were granted planning permission that wouldn’t if they had an adopted policy.

David Walker by another unplanned site in West Felton
West Felton has been burdened with 70-100 houses they didn’t ask for, thanks to Conservative 5-year land supply failure & lack of planning control.

The SamDev delays were due to staff shortages caused by the Conservative policy of allowing anyone who asked for redundancy to take it. This short-sighted policy showed no strategic aim nor vision. Many planning and development control officers left. Much expertise and knowledge that was lost to the council.

As a result, West Felton will be burdened with 70-100 houses they didn’t want. If they had have been planned properly they would have probably been located differently, with a mix of houses more in line with the needs of the village and on a much smaller scale – The more likely outcome… Not at all.

As a Land Surveyor working for one of the countries most successful planning consultancies I find this particular failure by the Conservatives unacceptable and in one of the big drivers behind my decision to stand for lecetion next May.

Is the scope of the review going to be fit for purpose?

Probably not. Only yesterday the Conservative Government criticised Councils for being too slow and not accurately allocating enough housing to meet the national need. They will be shortening the planning process. Whilst good from a planning and development point of view, this is bad news for residents wishing to be involved in the planning process. It is now more important than ever that parish councils and residents get involved in policy development to head off poor policy making at the pass.

This consultation will conclude on Monday 20th of March 2017. Details of the consultation are here: Local Plan Partial Review – Issues and strategic options

Your views really matter.


Traffic figures show alarming jump

David Walker at looking at the traffic at Queens Head Junction
David Walker at looking at the traffic at Queens Head Junction
The Queens Head junction continues to be a concern. As traffic levels rise, the need for action is becoming more urgent all the time.

The latest available Road Traffic Accident data was released last October. The data for Whittington and West Felton Parishes broadly follows the trend shown in increasing traffic numbers across the country. However, the provisional data to June 2016 shows a potentially worrying spike. The last column on the right shows that the first half of 2016 had nearly eclipsed the annual total of the year before. If that trend continued through the rest of 2016 then 2016 would have had double the accidents of the year before and of the average since 2008.

The last column on the right shows that the first half of 2016 had nearly eclipsed the annual total in 2015 and matched the average of the years before (13 accidents.)

Whittington and West Felton Crash Statistics
Whittington and West Felton Crash Statistics

If that trend continued through the rest of 2016, then 2016 would have had double the accidents of the average since 2008. If there were no more accidents in the rest of 2016 then the figures would be on average. The later would be welcome but not a reason for complacency. Odds are that it is the former.

Residents have expressed concern about the A5 and the traffic growth for years. Some have called for the A5 to be converted to a dual carriageway and others have called for the addition of round-a-bouts at Queens Head and at Shotatton crossroads. The original design of this junction was questionable. It is clear to everybody who uses these junctions, on a daily basis, that the potential for serious problems is of growing concern. Far better to sort out these inadequate junctions before something serious happens. Over to you Highways England…. is a useful site for seeing the location and details of reported road traffic accidents. The full 2016 figures will be made available by the department of transport next June

Crash map showing the range of incidents around the Queens Head junction from 2009 to June 2016

Shropshire school budgets cut by £13.4m according to NUT

Last week the National Union of Teachers announced the estimated cuts to every School Budget by 2020. Based on current Government policies, the total estimated reduction across all schools in Shropshire in real terms is:


This is a vast sum which amounts to a Shropshire average of £394 cut Per pupil or 360 Teachers axed. As a former County Councillor and Cabinet member with an Education portfolio, I find these numbers quite depressing and very short-sighted.

A good education is a critical factor in not only an individual’s personal life chances but also essential in terms of the nation’s ability to create wealth. By starving schools of the resources they need, standards will go down and ultimately we are all poorer. Especially in a post-Brexit world, we need to invest heavily in Education and supporting all of our industries to adjust to the new demands facing the economy. Get this wrong and the long-term problems for the economy will mount up. After Brexit, we need to be as competitive as we can as we will be competing on our own against the rest of the world. On many measures of education, skills, and productivity we already lag far behind many leading economies.

Individual school cuts for schools serving Whittington and West Felton

The Corbet School Technology College: -£306,734, -£463 Per pupil or -7 Teachers
West Felton CofE: -£29,416, -£246 Per pupil or -1 Teaching assistant
The Marches School: -£522,032, -£428 Per pupil or -15 Teachers
Whittington CofE-£66,382, -£323 Per pupil or -1 Teachers

According to the NUT: “Unless the Government allocates more money, schools will lose £3 billion a year in real terms by 2020.

“98% of schools’ costs are rising faster than their income.

“60% of secondary schools are running deficit budgets.”