Local Plan Review Consultation deadline fast approaching

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Shropshire Council’s Local Plan review consultation closes on the 8th of February. It is important that as many people as possible respond. If you want sites added or removed from the plan, or to have an impact on the overall strategy, now is the time to comment. Once things get locked in and become policy it will be much harder for people to make changes.

Over the last few weeks, I have been out in Whitting Division gauging opinion in West Felton, Whittington and Park Hall with a Housing Survey.  Thank you to everybody who has filled in the survey. Your responses are much appreciated. I will be collating all of the responses for when I send in my own comments. I will also share my findings with respondents, putting a summary on my website and in a future Focus newsletter.

If you are a resident of Whittington or West Felton Parishes you can still let me know your views on Shropshire Council’s Local Plan Review here:

West Felton parish Housing Survey (Dec 2018)
Whittington parish Housing Survey (December 2018)

More importantly, please can you respond to Shropshire Council’s Local Plan review consultation is here:
https://shropshire.gov.uk/get-involved/local-plan-review-preferred-sites-consultation/

For Park Hall, Whittington and West Felton the specific documents are within the Oswestry Place Plan area:
Preferred Sites Consultation – Oswestry Place Plan Area.pdf
Preferred Sites Questionnaire – Oswestry Place Plan Area.pdf

Local plan review summary

Shropshire Council has opted for the ‘High’ housing growth option of 28,750 dwellings
The Conservative administration picked the highest of the 3 options Shropshire Council considered.
All three options were higher than the Government’s own assessment of 25,400 dwellings
Their chosen growth figure is more than DOUBLE the 18,000 suggested by the CPRE
West Felton village is slated for 130 new houses over the plan period  – a 45% increase since 2011 census.
Whittington Parish is slated for 360 new houses over the plan period  – a 34% increase since 2011 census.
Local plan review consultation - Housing Survey. Working hard all year round not just at elections
Local plan review consultation – West Felton Housing Survey. Working hard all year round not just at elections

I will be objecting to the plans in the local plan review consultation.

  • The overall housing target is too high. 80% of residents I have surveyed want the CPRE target, with some supporting the Government target. Nobody so far wants ‘Significant’ or ‘High’ growth levels.
  • Housing Need public consultation is largely being assessed after the sites have been picked. The public should have been consulted properly about need months ago.
  • Shropshire Council has opted for a strategy that is all about their own finances, not the needs of communities in Shropshire. By setting the maximum rate they can broaden their tax base to fill their budget blackhole without putting up the council tax rate. They are also picking sites, in the current review and as sites with long-term potential, that they already own ahead of other sites that may be equally or more sustainable sites for housing growth. This leaves the whole plan vulnerable to challenge from sites that have been passed over and ultimately rejection by planning inspectors.
  • More specifically, I am also objecting to West Felton becoming a Community Hub. Residents have already said they wanted the village to be Open Countryside, The parish didn’t want to have any more housing. The Parish Council flew in the face of that opinion by supporting the change to a Community Hub. 100% of respondents to my survey want to remain as Open Countryside. Some are very angry about that decision. A minority of parish councillors, including myself, opposed the move to becoming a hub.
  • Generally, I am in favour of the principle of creating Garden Villages. However, the two sites chosen by the Conservative-run Council, in Park Hall and Stanmore, next to Bridgnorth, are the wrong places. By creating a zone of expansion for Oswestry in Park Hall they are creating urban sprawl that threatens the distinct identities of Park Hall, Whittington and Gobowen. A sift in the centre of gravity will also have a negative impact on the future viability of Oswestry Town Centre. At Stanmore, they will trash a much-loved country park and ruin the heritage of RAF Stanmore for future generations. Both put pressures on existing infrastructure. If Garden Villages are built they are better built as new villages where suitable infrastructure and employment can be designed in from the start.
  • Just because it is easy to deliver doesn’t make a site the best, the most sustainable or the best fit. Planning policy should be based on local need and strategic need not the short-term financial need of Shropshire Council.
Delivering the Whittington Housing Survey
Delivering the Whittington Housing Survey

Why it is important residents have their say now

When a new site is developed and an application for planning permission is made, comments and objections are submitted by residents.  Those arguments for and against a site are more sustainable if they are supported by policy. So getting the policy right at the beginning is critical. All too often heartfelt objections are ridden over because they have come far too late into the process. So please have your say in the Local Plan review consultation.

I believe that the public should have a much stronger role in deciding the overall planning strategy and shaping the communities they live in. Equally a greater input into applications before they are made can only help improve the overall quality of applications. More often than not, because of low engagement levels, people are unaware of things happening until the application is made or even when the first turf is cut. This only leads to tension in the planning system which doesn’t help anybody.

The Local Plan review consultation is an important step in setting policy. Strong policy, based on need, will make sure housing growth is appropriate for our needs.

Shropshire Council is consulting on housing need over the coming weeks and months through Right Home Right Place. It is beyond frustrating that Shirehall has put the cart before the horse.  I would urge residents to participate in this survey as well.

West Felton Housing Survey

West Felton Housing Focus Dec18-A3-rgb1

Whittington Housing Survey

Whittington Housing Focus Dec18-rgb1

Park Hall Survey

Whittington Housing Park hall Focus Dec18-A3rgb1

See more in my previous post:  West Felton 45% and Whittington 25% more houses since 2011

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

Blindspot mirror is now repaired

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.

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 as September 2016 on Google Street view. For something with safety implications, it should have been fixed a lot sooner.
Broken blindspot 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

 

 

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

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.

Methodology

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

Conclusions

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.