Shropshire Council to examine roadworks planning after complaints

Poorly advertised road closures have meant carers unable to reach appointments, visitors getting lost on country lanes and a widow being late to her husband’s funeral, it has been claimed.

Evening view UK Motorway Services Roadworks Cones..
Evening view UK Motorway Services Roadworks Cones..

Shropshire Council’s place overview committee also heard that parents were left “worried to death” when their children did not arrive home from their village school on time, because the authority had failed to communicate a diversion affecting the bus route.

Councillor Heather Kidd said these were just a handful of the recent complaints she has received from residents over the council’s poor handling of road closures.

The issue was up for discussion at a meeting on Wednesday after a report by Andy Wilde, head of highways, admitted communication of diversions had sometimes been “inadequate”.

Mr Wilde told councillors that the problem had worsened in recent years as the Government had stopped providing local authorities with a multi-year road maintenance budget in advance.

He said now the council was having to rush through programmes of work as and when funding settlements were announced in-year, meaning there was less time to consult and communicate with affected residents and businesses.

Mr Wilde added that the increase in road closures of late was also a reflection of the council’s efforts to work with its road maintenance contractor Kier to move away from temporary repairs to more permanent fixes.

Mr Wilde said: “We fully recognise that road closures are unpopular and they present challenges and difficulties to the people of Shropshire, which is something we are very mindful of.”

Councillors said that while they welcomed the recent improvements to road maintenance, the lack of communication from the council over roadworks was a huge problem.

Councillor Kidd, who represents Chirbury and Worthen, said she had been contacted by a carer who had twice run into unsigned road closures, which had led to a client being left in soiled pants as she was unable to reach their house.

In another case, funeral cars had been unable to get to the home of an elderly woman to take her to Shrewsbury for her husband’s funeral, resulting in her arriving 15 minutes late for the service in a “distressed” state.

Councillor Kidd said the council had apologised for not informing the school of the road closure affecting the buses, but said it was “not acceptable” that lessons had not been learned.

Committee chair Councillor Joyce Barrow, who represents St Oswald, said businesses were also being left out of communications, resulting in lost trade.

Whitchurch North councillor Peggy Mullock said there was also a problem around lack of communication with councillors, who would be able to offer valuable input on the most suitable diversion routes.

Mr Wilde said he recognised “the value of that local knowledge” but added: “We are not having the time to capture that local feedback and engagement.

“It’s absolutely where we want to get to, but it does come back to budget certainty.”

Councillor Steve Charmley, cabinet member for highways, said the council was hoping to be in a position to better plan and communicate maintenance in advance once a “backlog” of work had been caught up.

Councillor Kidd said if local councillors were at least informed of any last-minute closures they could help spread the word, to avoid buses and HGVs ending up on unsuitable roads – which she said was a regular occurrence at present.

“It causes chaos and it could be averted if whoever is organising these crews to go out and start the following day simply told the local member, ” said Councillor Kidd.

“It would make a significant difference.

“Before we get to a situation where roads are in a much better state, there are a few things we could do which would stop winding up the public and would make life – certainly in the rural areas – significantly better.

“It’s not difficult. It really isn’t a hugely complex thing, if you’re already organising the work and getting crews out somewhere.

“They are great on the ground, most of these guys are really nice, but they are getting abuse from the public that they needn’t have.”

The committee resolved to set up a working group to discuss the issue, which will report back to a future meeting.

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