Shropshire group set up to look at problems caused by big agricultural vehicles
A new liaison group will be formed including council, police and farming representatives to address the problems caused to Shropshire’s rural road network by agricultural vehicles.
Claims have been made that the county’s farmers and contractors are often guilty of speeding, using mobile phones and even allowing teenage tractor licence holders to drive larger vehicles than they are permitted to.
The increasing size and weight of farm vehicles has also been blamed for persistent damage caused to the county’s rural lanes, verges and hedges, prompting calls for stricter action to be taken against those who flout the law and lack consideration for their surroundings.
Councillor Joyce Barrow, chair of Shropshire Council’s place overview committee, invited the National Farmers' Union, police and county farmers to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss setting up a liaison group to take the issues forward.
Councillor Barrow said she had received numerous complaints about behaviour of tractor drivers and the state they left roads in – from talking on mobile phones to damaging heritage assets and blocking narrow lanes.
She said: “It is our responsibility as a council to give peace of mind to the public and see how we can tackle these issues.
“Farming is the lifeblood of Shropshire and in one way or another it touches all our lives.
“Make no mistake, farmers do a fantastic job and they are a vital service to the community.
"This is not about any individual farm, this is a look to see what powers individual bodies have to address issues when they occur.”
Paul Brereton, a farmer and owner of an agricultural machinery business in Market Drayton, said he regularly witnessed tractor drivers exceeding their speed limit of 40 kilometres per hour (approximately 25mph).
He said this, combined with the weight per axle of modern farm machinery being more than that of HGVs, was causing damage to the highways – but “farmers are totally unaware of what damage and other concerns are being caused because of the young drivers they have got working for them”.
Mr Brereton said West Mercia Police was failing to enforce laws around the maximum width of farm vehicles, use of mobile phones while driving and minimum age restrictions on certain vehicles.
He added: “Farmers have got to get the job done, we know, but that does not justify causing problems for other members of the community. We all need to work together. The police need to be far, far more proactive in stopping these people and, if not, prosecuting them.”
Pc Tim Viner, a forensics collision investigator based at Shrewsbury Police Station, said: “We need to educate. We need to educate the farming community, we need to educate the contractors, and also the local community and the police as a whole.
“The reality is the police have been hit very hard by government spending caps and such, and although road policing is a priority there are just not enough officers to police the whole of Shropshire’s road network all the time.”
Robert Newbery, the NFU’s West Midlands regional director, said it was important to distinguish between “legal and legitimate” road usage and that which was illegal and irresponsible, which he stressed was the minority.
Councillor Steve Davenport, portfolio holder for highways, said the council should bill farmers and contractors when they are found to have caused damage to roads and verges.
The liaison group will feed back to the committee at a future meeting.