Campaigners closing in on petition target to debate Bridgnorth and Hodnet depot closures

Campaigners are closing in on the number of petition signatures that they need to challenge a council decision to close highways depots in Shropshire.

Shropshire Councillor Julia Buckley and Bridgnorth Town Councillor Rachel Connolly
Shropshire Councillor Julia Buckley and Bridgnorth Town Councillor Rachel Connolly

With just over two weeks to go until a deadline of September 8 to get to 1,000 signatures, the organisers have 809 names on an online petition with many also already collected on paper, against Shropshire Council’s decision to close both of the county's eastern rural highways depots.

"They are trying to say it is an operational decision, not something for councillors to vote on," said Councillor Dr Julia Buckley (Lab, Bridgnorth West and Tasley).

"If that is the case on this then what is next? Will they want to close all the nursing homes?"

The two depots lined up for the axe are in Bridgnorth and Hodnet, as Shropshire Council seeks to reduce the number of highways depots from five to three.

Councillor Buckley believes that the move will inevitably lead to a reduction in road repairs and other emergency work especially in vast swathes of the south of the county.

"It will take longer to get to places on the border with Herefordshire and Powys," said Councillor Buckley who is one of the petition's driving forces along with Bridgnorth Town councillor Rachel Connolly.

She believes that if the service is measured by the number of road repairs and potholes filled in, that could see a concentration on the repairs nearer Shrewsbury and the remaining depots.

"They will go for the low hanging fruit rather than spend hours travelling to rural Shropshire and back. They are also having to spend money on equipment to keep the Tarmac hot so it doesn't go cold," she added.

Councillor Buckley says a date for a great debate on the issue is already pencilled in for the next meeting of the full Shropshire Council on September 23, assuming the target number is hit. She is already discussing the issue with senior officers behind the scenes.

“We have been overwhelmed by the level of feeling by rural residents about this service cut," she said.

"Quite rightly, there are many concerns about how the reduced highway teams will reach the rural roads and footpaths in the east of the county. Not just for emergency repairs, but also during flooding and winter gritting.”

Campaigners have also asked for councillors to be shown the business case for the move.

Campaigners believe that by making the issue the subject of a vote at council, elected members will be able to express their feelings one way or another, and she believes the ruling Conservative group can be made to change its mind.

Council bosses have promised that the move will 'free up money' that can be reinvested in work to improve roads in the county.

Under the proposals, the depots at Stourbridge Road, in Bridgnorth and Hodnet would close, with operations continuing at the three main depots in Whittington, Shrewsbury and Craven Arms.

Shropshire Council says no jobs will be lost, and that modelling has demonstrated that there will be no detrimental impact on services to those areas currently covered by those depots.

The authority says it is typical of a council area of Shropshire’s size to be serviced by two to three highway depots and it will bring improvements.

The focusing of operations at three depots in Oswestry, Shrewsbury and Craven Arms means that the council and its contractor Kier can be co-located.

The council says this will bring benefits such as better communications, oversight and consistency across the board, and will lead to improvements in the quality of work and engagement with other organisations.

Centralising teams is also expected to increase the operational resilience of the service during staff absences, as well as improving the management of the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.

Each of the three remaining depots will be managed by an area manager from both Shropshire Council and Kier, supported by local technicians and supervisors.

The sites which are owned by Shropshire Council and leased out to contractor Kier are set to permanently close on September 30.

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