Public Accounts Committee Press Release

David Walker in West Felton

I issued a Press Release ahead of the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into local councils buying commercial property that starts on Monday. The Shropshire Star has used some of it here: https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/business/2020/05/08/council-questioned-over-shopping-centres/

My Press Release in Full: Public Accounts Committee inquiry into council commercial spending

07 May 2020

Embargo: none

Commenting on the news that The Public Accounts Committee will look at Shropshire Council’s £52m shopping centre purchase as part of their inquiry into local authority commercial investment, David Walker said: “The purchase of these shopping centres represents a huge risk to Shropshire Council’s finances. Senior administration members seem to have forgotten it isn’t monopoly money they are playing with. Or indeed their own money. They are risking public money!”

The inquiry will be looking to see if the Government Department has effective oversight of the risks to the financial sustainability of local authorities investing in commercial property. The Public Accounts Committee will look at these purchases on the 11th of May.

David Walker is a Civil Engineering Surveyor who has worked in the property and construction industry for over 30 years. He is the Chair of North Shropshire Lib Dems, a former County Councillor and a West Felton Parish Councillor. He said: “The risks of the investment clearly outweighed any potential gain. More so when you consider the perilous state of the Council’s finances. More so given that more prudent investment strategies would have given a better return. More so given that the retail sector was already massively contracting in 2017.

“Arguably investing £52m in the whole Shropshire economy would have yielded more far-reaching benefits for everybody. There is much more to Shropshire than just Shrewsbury after all.

“The fact they didn’t get a proper valuation beforehand just compounds their error. The actual valuation instantly wiped nearly £3m off the price paid. A year later the value had plummeted by over 20% wiping another £11m off the price they originally paid. You have to wonder how the valuation looks at the end of 2019/20… All before Coronavius drove a coach and horses through the economy in the last few weeks.

Shropshire Council purchased the centres through an offshore trust in Jersey. All to avoid ‘millions of pounds’ of stamp duty & VAT. The ownership of the Shopping Centres is still held offshore.

“What planet is the Administation at Shirehall on? It sounds like they are passengers… back seat drivers at best who can’t dictate to the trust under the terms of the deal. A deal very few people have seen. Crazy.

“They would now like us to believe they were being altruistic and just looking to secure the future of the Shopping Centres, but the Chief Executive said it was also about ‘…getting a good return on our investment’ just after the cabinet agreed to the purchase. It shouldn’t take over a year to move ownership onshore. It sounds like they are locked into a bad deal. All at a time while the value of these assets is tanking. A gross misuse of public money if ever there was one.

“This all brings into question Shropshire Council’s ability and capacity to manage a purchase like this. I seriously doubt there is any of either amongst the members.

“The investment adage ‘buy low, sell high’ seems to have passed the administration by in quite the most spectacular way. Ignoring the warning signs is grossly irresponsible.

“If the purchase was desirable the timing of the purchase and the purchase price leaves a lot to be desired. Even a short delay would have allowed them to secure a much better deal. I am sure the previous owners are feeling very pleased with themselves.

“So I hope the Public Accounts Committee do a thorough job and really take Shropshire Council to task.” He concluded.

Read more here: https://cllrdavidwalker.org/52m-shopping-centre-purchase-inquiry/

Household Recycling Centres reopen

David Walker in West Felton

Household Recycling Centres reopened from today for essential use only. This is welcome news as reports of increased fly-tipping have been in circulation. Researchers from the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth have found that reports of fly-tipping in rural communities had increased by 300% during the lockdown. Shropshire Council scrapped all 120 of the local recycling points in 2018 – I am sure they could help ease the pressure if reinstated.

As we see some easing of coronavirus restrictions we need to be careful how we do this. We must avoid easing restrictions too much or too quickly, or we risk another outbreak. If we can return to a new level of normality and maintain social distancing then opening up should be welcomed. However, we can’t be complacent and think this is over. We are going to be facing restrictions for a long time yet.

New Rules in force at Household Recycling Centres

Shropshire Council and Veolia have said that Household Recycling Centres reopened from today with the following rules:

  • Anyone who is self-isolating or has COVID-19 symptoms MUST NOT visit an HRC site
  • A strict limit to the number of vehicles allowed on a site at any one time
  • Only one person per vehicle
  • Only cars will be admitted. No trailers or vans of any sort will be allowed. This will be continuously under review
  • Waste permits will not be accepted
  • Only one visit will be allowed per day
  • No trade or commercial waste will be accepted
  • Asbestos, oils and paints will not be accepted. They will need to be stored safely at home until we’re able to safely process them. We’ll publicise when we’re able to accept these materials
  • The public must respect the strict two-metre rule both from staff and other site users
  • Veolia staff will be unable to assist with unloading vehicles
  • Walking-in of waste will not be permitted
  • Use of the sites is restricted to residents of Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin only

300% increase in fly-tipping during Coronavirus lockdown

Research from the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth has found that reports of fly-tipping in rural communities have increased by 300% during the lockdown. The study suggests the rise could be linked to the closure of recycling centres in parts of the UK.

“There are concerns that unscrupulous traders are exploiting social distancing rules in some areas to try and provide illegal waste disposal services. Councils appreciate residents may have larger amounts of rubbish building up and they will continue to work hard to keep waste and recycling services working as effectively as possible

David Renard, Environment spokesman for the Local Government Association

Overflowing recycling left at the old recycling point which Shropshire Council closed in 2019. Household Recycling Centres on their own aren't enough to cut fly-tipping & improve recycling ratesOverflowing recycling left at the old recycling point which Shropshire Council closed in 2019. Household Recycling Centres on their own aren't enough to cut fly-tipping & improve recycling rates
The bins in The Punch Bowl car park aren’t a recycling point any more. Shropshire Council removed their skips from 120 recycling bring points in 2019 to save money. Household Recycling Centres on their own aren’t enough to cut fly-tipping & improve recycling rates.

In 2019 Shropshire closed all 120 of its recycling bring points across Shropshire as a cost-saving exercise. They claimed that this would improve recycling rates and reduce fly-tipping when all of the evidence showed the reverse was the case. West Felton Parish Council discussed this before the lockdown as recycling was still being left at the bring point. To reduce fly-tipping and improve recycling rates you actually need to make recycling easier, not harder.

Telford & Veolia provide Wheelie bins rather than crates for the plastic, cans and bottle recycling in 2013. Shropshire Council should do the same and expand their doorstep recycling service if they want to reduce fly-tipping and improve their recycling rates. Introducing a Wheelie bind for plastic would be very welcome.

Coronavirus has shown how vulnerable waste management and recycling is to disruptions in the collection service.

May Bank holiday refuse collections

Revised waste collections for the May Bank holidays for 2020 were released last week. For the Early May Bank Holiday on Friday, Friday collections will be on Saturday. The rest of the week before and the week after remain unchanged. At the moment, the Spring Bank Holiday week will have the usual 1-day delay for each collection day.

Coronavirus update 2

David Walker in West Felton

We are now well into the second month of lockdown. Easing Coronavirus restrictions is increasingly being called for. However, this must be done carefully and at the appropriate point. Easing Coronavirus restrictions too soon risks a new outbreak.

All the signs are that it is going to be a long haul to get back to normal. On many measures, we have passed the peak in terms of hospital deaths. Deaths and infections outside of the NHS, particularly in the care sector, remain a worry. However, the mortality rate is still way above the seasonal norm. This figure is far higher than in other countries. Excess mortality is a strong sign of the Government’s failure to lockdown quickly enough. The Office of National Statistics data is running behind the governments updates but has proven to be a better guide than the Government data.

Easing Coronavirus restrictions too soon risks a new outbreak.

Thankfully in Shropshire, we haven’t been decimated to the same extent as other areas. However, we have still seen over 530 cases of Coronavirus in the Shropshire Council area. The combined numbers for SaTH trust as of Monday the 4th of May are:

  • Cases: 813
  • Deaths: 104
  • Deaths at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust: 93
  • Deaths at The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital near Oswestry: 5
  • Deaths at Shropshire Community Health Trust: 6

Compared to the national mortality rate Shropshire’s rate is generally higher (134 per 100,000 people) than the coronavirus mortality rate (15 per 100,000 people). This is good but we shouldn’t be complacent about that. Nationally Care home deaths linked to coronavirus have risen by over 2,500 in a week. In Shropshire , as of Monday the 4th, the total deaths reported to Care Quality England is 30. Source: Office for National Statistics (ONS). Last week we learnt that 17 care homes in Shropshire were battling coronavirus infections. Even in the relative isolation of the Isle of Skye, coronavirus has ravaged a care home, with one death, all of the residents and most of the staff battling infection.

There is a growing call for the UK to ease Coronavirus restrictions. In a practical sense, this will happen gradually but we will hear more about this on Sunday. However, any easing mustn’t be done prematurely or we risk a resurgent virus, many more deaths and another long period of lockdown. Coronavirus restrictions are going to be around until an antivirus can be found. This will take a long time, despite some of the press coverage spinning this as just around the corner. It isn’t. The New York Times has an excellent interactive explanation.

New Tork Times has produced an excellent interactive article called: How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?

The government have been behind the curve from the start. They were at least two weeks late locking down. We could all see developments in Italy escalate with horror. Meanwhile, the government equivocated, messed about with a deadly herd immunity strategy and ignored WHO advice.

We have passed the peak

Covid 19 Hospital Deaths in England as of the end of the 2nd of May 2020 – the peak in hospitals has passed

Excess Mortality rate means we mustn’t contemplate easing Coronavirus restrictions too soon

The excess mortality rate compared to what we usually see is a good guide to the impact of Coronavirus. If we end lockdown or ease Coronavirus restrictions too quickly we put the lives of tens of thousands of people at risk. It is too soon to say it the excess mortality rate has peaked but the week 17 data looks encouraging.

Open the latest ONS bulletin

‘We shouldn’t jump to conclusions with raw data’

‘On your own metric, haven’t you failed over #COVID19 deaths?’ – Sky News’ Sophy Ridge.Grant Shapps is shown statistics on the global death rate and excess mortality rate. He insists the “whole picture” isn’t available and we shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” with “raw data”.#Ridge

Posted by Sky News on Sunday, 3 May 2020

Easing Coronavirus restrictions will increase demand for PPE.

The availability of PPE remains an issue in many areas. It is appalling that the government left key workers short of PPE for weeks on end, when they knew what was coming and could have done something about it. As we ease lockdown PPE supplies will become stretched again. The government must make sure enough PPE is available for all key workers on the front line and for anybody who needs it as restrictions ease and they return to working in socially distant workplaces. So far the Government’s record on PPE has been abysmal.

It is critical that our communities stand together and continue to observe the social distancing regulations if we are going to overcome this virus in the foreseeable future. Easing Coronavirus restrictions too soon will be risks a new outbreak. As things ease we will still need to practice social distancing. We will still need to shield vulnerable members of the community. We will still need to work at home if we can.

The R rate

There are five tests that must be met before social distancing measures can be adjusted.One of these is the rate of infection, or R.Keeping the R down will be vital to our recovery, and we can only do it with discipline and by working together. #StayHomeSaveLives

Posted by UK government on Thursday, 30 April 2020

Where to get help and support

The latest Government advice: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

The latest medical advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

IF you think you have symptoms go to the 111 website: https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19/

Shropshire Council: https://shropshire.gov.uk/coronavirus

Coronavirus Helpline: 0345 678 9028

Facebook groups:

West Felton Support Network

Whittington Together

North Shropshire Good Neighbour Network

Other groups can be found here: https://covidmutualaid.org/local-groups/

Read my previous Coronavirus update here and signup to my newsletter below for more regular updates.

£52m shopping centre purchase inquiry

David Walker in West Felton
Darwin Centre Entrance canopy. Conservative-run Shropshire Council purchased 3 shopping centres for £52.2m in 2018Darwin Centre Entrance canopy. Conservative-run Shropshire Council purchased 3 shopping centres for £52.2m in 2018
Darwin Centre Entrance canopy. Conservative-run Shropshire Council purchased 3 shopping centres for £52.2m in 2018

It is welcome news that a parliamentary watchdog is to examine Shropshire Council’s £52m shopping centre purchase. This is part of a wider look at local council involvement in purchasing commercial property. The Public Accounts Committee will look at these purchases in May.

The purchase of these shopping centres represents a huge risk to Shropshire Council’s finances. Senior administration members seem to have forgotten it isn’t monopoly money they are playing with. Or indeed their own money. They are risking public money! The risks in the investment clearly outweighed the potential gain. More so when you consider the perilous state of their finances. More so given that more prudent investment strategies would give a better return.

The fact they didn’t get a proper valuation beforehand just compounds their error. The actual valuation instantly wiped nearly £3m off the price paid. A year later the value had plummeted by over 20% wiping another £11m off the price they originally paid. You have to wonder how the valuation looks at the end of 2019/20… All before Coronavius drove a coach and horse through the economy in the last few weeks.

Then we learnt that Shropshire Council didn’t actually own their assets outright. Instead, they had purchased the centres through an offshore trust in Jersey. All to avoid ‘millions of pounds’ of stamp duty & VAT. The trust managing the assets for the council leaving the Council as passengers, and not for the first time out of control.*

*Update 7/05/2020: It turns out that the ownership of the Shopping Centres is still offshore.  What planet are the admin at Shirehall on? It sounds like the administration are passengers... back seat drivers at best who can't dictate to the trust under the terms of the deal. A deal very few people have seen. Crazy and all at a time while the value of these assets is tanking. A gross missuse of public money if ever there was one. So I hope the Public Accounts Committee do a thorough job and really take shropshire Council to task. 

This all brings into question Shropshire Council’s ability and capacity to manage a purchase like this. I seriously doubt there is any of either amongst the members. Expert capacity seems to be lacking generally if the ‘pothole consultant‘ or even the controversial IP&E experiment are taken as examples. The Conservative-run council seems to make a habit of playing fast and loose with public money.

The investment adage ‘buy low, sell high’ seems to have passed the administration by in quite the most spectacular way. Ignoring the warning signs is grossly irresponsible. If the purchase was desirable the timing of the purchase and the purchase price leaves a lot to be desired. I am sure the previous owners are feeling very pleased with themselves.

Retailmageddon

Shropshire Council completed the purchase of 3 shopping centres, despite sector reports saying that the retail sector would be facing further significant contractions for the foreseeable future. Retailmageddon, Retail Armageddon and Retail Appocolyse as phrases came to prominence in 2017 as retail floor space rapidly contracted in the US in the face of competition from online shopping retailers like Amazon. The signs were there that the phenomenon was also impacting the UK. Toy R Us for example where the US went bust in 2017 with the UK arm going the same way February 2018. Retail Armageddon coming to a store near you | Retail Meltdown of 2017Traffic figures from 2000-2016 also pointed to a huge increase in vans and small lorries brought about by online shopping.

Landlords were increasingly being exposed in 2017/18 to retailers demanding reduced rents using Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) as leverage. When Shropshire Council purchased the shopping centres they exposed themselves to lower rents that they had little or no control of. A retailer could have declared a CVA, closed a raft of stores and imposed a blanket restructuring of rents on them as a landlord even if Shropshire Council didn’t agree. Shropshire Council was negatively exposed to empty shops or shops that took out CVAs and drastically cut rents. Shropshire Council had a guarantee of rental income for 2 years but that offered scant protection to their exposer. According to Deloitte during 2018 there was a 53% increase in retail CVAs. This prompted landlords to try and defeat the CVAs in the courts.

“2017 is shaping up to be a new digital tipping point for retail as ecommerce continues on its relentless growth trajectory…

…This is having a massive impact on the store estate in the US with 8,600 stores estimated to close in 2017

Deloitte Retail Trends March 2017

“2018 could see a further acceleration in store closures as retailers finally get to grips with transforming their real estate portfolios, to be fit for a market where online continues to outperform the rest of the market.”

Deloitte Retail Trends January2018

I don’t believe, given the prevailing market conditions before the purchase, that this £52m shopping centre purchase ever presented the opportunity of a good return or represented good value-for-money. Had they waited, even for a few months, they could have secured the centres for a much more realistic valuation. Shropshire Council anticipated a return of £10.7 million over the following 4-5 years. That looks extremely unlikely. The capital devaluation is already bigger than any gain. The Administration has shifted the emphasis away from turning a profit towards regeneration to try as save some credibility. As the investment devalues it actually hampers Shropshire Council’s ability to grow its balances and to invest in the Shropshire Economy. Arguably investing £52m in the whole Shropshire economy would have yielded more far-reaching benefits for everybody. There is much more to Shropshire than just Shrewsbury after all.

“It is primarily about regenerating the town centre and attracting visitors, but also getting a good return on our investment.”

Chief Executive Clive Wright after Cabinet approved the £52m shopping centre purchase in December 2017

Public Accounts Committee

The controversial purchase is now to be part of an inquiry by Parliament’s spending watchdog. The inquiry will look into local authorities using £6.6bn to buy up commercial property. The Public Accounts Committee will look at these purchases in May. This comes after The National Audit Office reported on commercial activities by councils in February. Shropshire Council’s £52m shopping centre purchase is just one of 49 councils that the National Audit Office report highlighted.

You can see The Public Accounts Committee inquiry on the 11th of May 2020 at 2:30 pm on https://parliamentlive.tv/Commons

Written evidence can be made to the committee up until the 6th of May.

Audit reveals problems.

Shropshire Council’s audit found that a proper valuation hadn’t been carried out before the purchase. Auditors from Grant Thornton said that without the valuation they cannot guarantee that what the council paid represents the current value of the centre. The centre valuation after purchase turned out to be £49.3m, not £52.2m. Nearly £3m short of what Shropshire Council paid for the shopping centres. Audit reveals council bought shopping centre without formal valuation

“Risks remain to the Council from the Shopping Centre investment, in that the property may devalue and the asset may not deliver the returns that the Council anticipated.”

Mark Stocks from auditor Grant Thornton

“This is a property with commercial value and so it becomes more important you are aware of the movements each year in terms of value of that asset.”

Advertiser: Mark Stocks from auditor Grant Thornton speaking at the Audit Committee in July 2018

“There is no room for slip-ups. We have to deliver these shopping centres otherwise we will be up the creek.”

Advertiser: Conservative Chair of Shropshire Council’s Audit Committee, Councillor Peter Adams July 2018

Jersey Offshore Trust – turns out Shropshire Council don’t directly own their assets

The next controversy to emerge was that the shopping centres were to be purchased through an offshore trust. This was to avoid ‘millions of pounds’ of stamp duty & VAT. The intention was to bring the assets back onshore within 6 months. In September, 9 months later, it emerged that the assets were still owned and managed by the trust in Jersey. This was highlighted in the Grant Thorton 2018/19 Audit report. Is the ownership of the shopping centres still offshore?*

*Update 7/05/2020: It turns out that the ownership of the Shopping Centres is still offshore.  What planet are the admin at Shirehall on? It sounds like the administration are passengers... back seat drivers at best who can't dictate to the trust under the terms of the deal. A deal very few people have seen. Crazy and all at a time while the value of these assets is tanking. A gross missuse of public money if ever there was one. So I hope the Public Accounts Committee do a thorough job and really take shropshire Council to task.

National Audit Office report into Commercial Activities by councils

The benefits from this investment therefore must be considered against the potential financial sustainability and value‑for‑money risks that have emerged.

National Audit Office report: Local Authority investment in commercial property

National Audit Office key findings. Shropshire Council’s £52m shopping centre purchase is included in the figures.
A sharp rise in commercial investment activity by 49 Councils (out of 352) in the last 3 years. The 49 included Shropshire Council. Source: National Audit Office

Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane

David Walker in West Felton

15 years ago I was campaigning to get Broadband into Bridgnorth. I was concerned then about slow speeds were putting us at an economic disadvantage compared to other areas locally and globally. Fast forward 15 years and we still find Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane! This is despite all of the bluster from Shropshire Council about increasing investment. With the Coronavirus lockdown, more people than ever need good access and fast reliable speeds.

People at home using the internet for work, entertainment, schooling or to stay in touch is increasing demand on the internet with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lanePeople at home using the internet for work, entertainment, schooling or to stay in touch is increasing demand on the internet with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
People at home using the internet for work, entertainment, schooling or to stay in touch is increasing demand on the internet

People at home using the internet for work, entertainment or to stay in touch with friends and family is increasing demand on the internet. YouTube, Microsoft, NetFlix and a pile of online content providers throttled their services to help lighten the load. Coronavirus is going to bring about a huge shift in people’s habits. Many of which will become permanent in quite a big paradigm shift. After this is done many people will still want to work at home and enjoy their newfound work/life balance. Many more people will be ordering online. Will they all revert to shopping in town centres? Many more people are downloading films. Will they all revert to going to the cinema? Some will but many won’t. Many businesses were already shifting to online service provision and delivery. They are hardly likely to shift back to a more expensive and less effective model of service delivery. All of these shifts are bad news for the digital divide and those with poor or now access.

Until Shropshire Council pull their finger out, invest our money wisely and apply real pressure on providers and BT then Shropshire is destined to fall further behind the rest of the UK.

“With lockdown conditions unlikely to be lifted completely for some time to come, people across the country are getting used to working from home and are relying more than ever on the internet for keeping in touch and to provide entertainment as they observe social distancing guidelines.

Network resilience has been good during the crisis but sharing best practise on the way networks are operated and managed has taken on even greater importance.”

Malcolm Corbett, Independent Networks Co-operative Association’s CEORollout of Ultrafast Broadband Must Continue Despite COVID-19

The need for everybody in Shropshire to have good reliable fast broadband access is more important than ever.

On the 10th of March BT announced that it was launching their Gigabit home broadband service across the UK from the 1st of April. Excellent news until you see the details beyond the headline. BT’s new gigabit service will be available in hundreds of cities, towns and villages across the UK not everywhere. They plan to reach 50% of homes by 2025. On present form, Shropshire will in large part be after that.

To understand why Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane first we need to understand some broad definitions. For this, I will use the broadband grades defined by Ofcom.

Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO):

The Government launched Universal Service Obligation (USO) in 2015 to guarantee access for all by 2020. This came into force this year.

From 20 March 2020, if you can’t get a download speed of 10 Mbit/s and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s, you can request an upgraded connection. You can make this USO request to BT – You don’t need to be a BT customer to do this.

Chart: Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom) and what that looks like with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom) and what that looks like.

Broadband Speed Definitions (Ofcom)

Decent Broadband

Services that supply actual internet download speeds of at least 10Mbps (Megabits per second)

This is the minimum level under the USO which started in March.

Superfast Broadband

Services that supply download speeds of at least 30Mbps

Ultrafast Broadband

Services that supply headline download speeds of at least 300Mbps

Gigabit Broadband

Services that can supply headline download speeds of up to or beyond 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) or 1000Mbps+

Shropshire in the broadband slow lane –

the broad picture for Shropshire

chart: Shropshire broadband speed access levels compared to UK & Surrey with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lanechart: Shropshire broadband speed access levels compared to UK & Surrey with Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane
Shropshire broadband speed access levels compared to UK & Surrey.

Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane and behind on every measure

Source: thinkbroadband.com

The picture in Shropshire is not a pretty one. It wasn’t pretty 15 years ago. It isn’t pretty now. It hasn’t been a pretty one for ages and unless something fundamental happens this isn’t likely to change. Yes, we are getting better speeds over time and for many people Superfast broadband is fine. But as Coronavirus is proving lagging behind can be a real problem. There are still 1% broadband accounts who are getting less 2Mbps and 2.75% getting below the USO legal minimum! As services move online in spades these people will become increasingly isolated.

Access levels in Shropshire are way behind other parts of the country and the UK average. The access level for the now-standard Superfast Broadband in Shropshire is 93.71%. Nationally 96.24% can access Superfast Broadband. For Ultrafast Broadband (launched by BT in 2018) Shropshire is and Gigabit Broadband Shropshire is even further behind the rest of the country.

Shropshire’s average Broadband speed in the Shropshire Council area in 2018 was a paltry 30Mbps earning a rank of 290th.

The average in 2019 barely improved with Shropshire’s average Broadband speed was an equally paltry 37.8Mbps earning a rank of 285th.

Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 290th in 2018 for Average MbpsShropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 290th in 2018 for Average Mbps
Average Mbps in Shropshire Council area in 2018 was a pitiful 30Mbps putting Shropshire in 290th place

Source: Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2019 report
Shropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 285th in 2019 for Average MbpsShropshire in the Broadband slow lane ranking 285th in 2019 for Average Mbps
Average Mbps in Shropshire Council area in 2019 was an equally pitiful 37.8Mbps putting Shropshire in 285th place

Source: Ofcom’s Connected Nations 2019 report

What does this mean in West Felton and Whittington?

Whittington House main entrace off Garisson Avenue, Whittington

© Copyright Row17 and licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

You might naturally think that having BT’s National Network Management Centre in the Division would mean we have the best access in Shropshire. You also might think because we have Shropshire Council’s Deputy Leader and the Portfolio Holder for Economic Growth that would also mean we would have the best access in Shropshire. You would be wrong on both counts. Despite BT’s Whittington House being in the Division.

For the lucky few who live within 200-300 metres of a cabinet, they can get G.Fast Ultrafast Broadband. G.fast was launched by BT in 2017 but only got a commercial licence on the 1st of April 2020. G.Fast offers download speeds up to 330Mbps. However, this is likely to be eclipsed by BTs plans to roll out Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) across the UK.

On the maps you can see what grade of broadband customers can expect

There are a lot of not-spots with limited speeds still. These are unlikely to see fast speeds for a considerable time. For them the solution is Fixed Wireless Access.

Wired broadband connections around Whittington

Click here for the full map

Wired broadband connections around West Felton

Fixed Wireless Access.

For me, this is the only option. Whilst I live physically close to the cabinet in Queens Head the connection goes the long way around so we only get 7Mbps on a fibre broadband connection. I use SWS Broadband based in Bishops Castleif you use this referral code (RAF4851) you can get 1 month off. On their best package, I can get over 30Mbps. Shropshire Council cut an £11.2m deal with AirBand in 2017 but I can’t see where that money went. Fixed Wireless is a compromise. A wired broadband connection would always be preferable. 5G when it comes to rural areas will only be by businesses where they can get good connectivity. 5G isn’t a broad access channel.

When you look at the installation maps below for SWS and for Airband I have to wonder where the money went and if it would have been better spent with SWS instead.

SWS Broadband

SWS Broadband

So come on Shropshire Council… do something special to keep Shropshire out of the broadband slow lane.

A tale of two signs

David Walker in West Felton

Let me tell you a tale of two signs. Two ordinary road signs.

One thing that always bugs me is inconsistency. As a colleague once said the hardest thing about consistency is being consistent. So when I see councils being inconsistent in does grate. Where a policy is applied one way in one situation and the same policy is applied differently in another situation. This can apply often in planning – two planning officers in the same council, with the same planning policies and planning law, can interpret planning applications completely differently. On a human level for residents, this can be baffling, frustrating and unfair. It shouldn’t be that way.

For example, take two pairs of ordinary road signs. One in Queens Head. One in Babbinswood. Both are national speed limit signs. Can you spot the difference?

Berg Hill Lane, Babbinswood

These National Speed limit signs are in the wrong place and need moving further along Beghill Lane to the end of the housesThese National Speed limit signs are in the wrong place and need moving further along Beghill 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 (see green pin below)

Photo shows the southern sign – viewed from the Junction. These need moving 200m along Berghill Lane to protect the houses from excessive speed

David Walker is seen raising the issue of this pair of signs in 2017 and residents concern over excessive speed outside their houses.

Nine houses on Berghill Lane have access points onto Berghill Lane – all in a national speed limit area. Berghill Lane is a rat run to avoid Whittington. Residents have complained about speeding. The easy solution is to properly site the signs and move them from the junction (See photo and yellow pin) to the end of the houses (green pin). The green pin is where they should be. Contrast and compare the location of these signs to the signs in Babbinswood below:

Twyford Lane, Queens Head

The Green pin above shows the national speed limit signs are located on Twyford Lane, Queens Head.

This is how things should be. All houses in a residential zone are protected by the lower speed limit.

Solution for Babbinswood

It is quite simple really. Shropshire Council needs to pull its finger out and move the signs in Babbinswood so that all residents on Berghill Lane get the correct speed limit and gain the residential amenity they are entitled to and that most people enjoy. Shropshire Council may well complain about the slow process of Traffic Regulation Orders and backlogs but that just isn’t good enough. This is a clear case of double standards and you need to get it sorted.

Tip for Shropshire Council: Two bags of Postcrete cost less than £10 https://www.wickes.co.uk/Blue-Circle-Ready-To-Use-Postcrete—20kg/p/221100 The labour to dig up the existing signs and move them 200m is not colossal either.

Coronavirus update

David Walker in West Felton

The Coronavirus scourge that is rampaging across the globe is now causing increasing disruption across the UK, as normal life is increasingly suspended, including politics. Venues are closed. Meetings are cancelled.

As people self-isolate and socially distance and we move towards more general isolation, it is important that we help stop the spread of coronavirus whilst supporting each other, particularly the elderly and vulnerable and those self-isolating. Isolation and loneliness have been growing issues amongst the elderly for some time. It is important that we are vigilant and look out for them and their mental health while they isolate. Equally, we need to protect them from disreputable people who are already seeking to exploit the elderly and vulnerable. West Mercia Police: Scam callers targeting elderly and vulnerable

coronavirus update wash your hands more oftencoronavirus update wash your hands more often
Coronavirus: wash your hands more often for 20 seconds

Where to get help and support

The latest Government advice: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

The latest medical advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

IF you think you have symptoms go to the 111 website: https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19/

Shropshire Council: https://shropshire.gov.uk/coronavirus

Coronavirus Helpline: 0345 678 9028

Facebook groups:

West Felton Support Network

Whittington Together

North Shropshire Good Neighbour Network

Other groups can be found here: https://covidmutualaid.org/local-groups/

Homeworking

Last week at work I spent the whole week preparing our systems for our key workers to work from home. The most recent government advice on social-distancing and self-isolation meant an accelerating of planned changes at work. As a result, this week key staff are now working from home.

With increased home working there will be increased pressure on the internet. YouTube and Netflix have just throttled back their services to make sure the internet doesn’t collapse. Collapsing the internet is no mean feat when you consider it was designed to survive a nuclear war. The internet is a critical service now more than ever. We can’t afford for it to collapse. For those of us who have campaigned for better internet speeds for decades, to enable a diverse economy in rural areas, this news is particularly worrying. As the government pumps billions into the economy to protect jobs, businesses and our way of life, they also need to inject much more into building internet capacity in rural areas. Rural businesses and remote workers are going to need it. People are going to need it at home as more and more services shift online.

Social distancing works

coronavirus update social distancingcoronavirus update social distancing
Social distancing works and will slow the rate we get infecting – buying us all time to find a vaccine

As an Asthma sufferer who has the flu jab, I am in an at-risk group so I am following government advice and socially distancing myself. I have had the flu jab since the Millenium when I spent the last week of 1999 and the first week of 2000 in the Princess Royal Hospital after flu brought on a severe chest infection which developed into pneumonia. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

If we all do what we can to socially distance ourselves, it slows the rate the Coronavirus spreads. This takes the pressure off the NHS which has largely been at breaking point for ages. It also buys us all time for a vaccine to be found and mass vaccination to happen. It is frustrating but the number of elderly and vulnerable people exposed to the risk of death is vastly reduced.

Canvassing and social events suspended

The liberal democrats cancelled their Spring Conference. As a constituency party, we suspended canvassing a few days ago. Closely followed by the decision to cancel social events until further notice. On Monday we took the decision to abort the latest round of Focus leaflets.

Leaflets were ready to be sent to the printers. The escalating Coronavirus situation meant these were edited, re-edited and re-edited. Such has been the pace of change, it has been impossible to keep up and remain accurate. This is frustrating as much because we wanted to continue to support our printer while their other trade was collapsing.

I had 3 versions about to go to print. These are included below in case you want to read some non-coronavirus news:

In the absence of delivered newsletters, while I am socially distancing myself, there will be more updates on this website and on my Facebook page.

Given the pace of change I will be sending out email updates on Coronavirus and other matters of interest – If you want to subscribe to these updates please fill in the form below:

Don’t panic

Coronavirus represents a huge threat to society. This can not be emphasized enough. So it important that we all follow government advice and protect ourselves and society from the spread of this pandemic as much as possible. That doesn’t mean we should panic. We definitely shouldn’t panic buy. There is enough to go around. We should just be sensible, come together as a community and help each other.

Life as we knew it…

It is important that we try to keep things as normal as possible while we combat Coronavirus. During this time life will carry on as far as it can… Just not the life as we knew it. Dealing with Coronavirus will bring permanent changes to how society functions. For example, many people won’t want to give up working from home once they get used to it.

Important issues still are happening despite Coronavirus dominating everything, as it rightly should. Issues like potholes and flooding remain unresolved. Issues that could easily be forgotten in the viral news storm. Coronavirus is going to dominate for months to come. 18 months has been mentioned in some quarters. Coronavirus will certainly dominate 2020.

It will be important that democracy is protected during this time; that accountability remains important; and that the new normal works for us as far as it can. Elections have been postponed for a year and the government’s Corona Bill proposes to suspend due process for two years, without checks and balances or a sunset clause. It is far better to have a rolling review of the Corona Bill every three months with a defined sunset when the powers expire. We need to make sure life returns to normal after the threat is over. Financially, the cost of dealing with Coronavirus will be huge for the economy and it may well take a decade to recover.

Coronavirus updateCoronavirus update
Coronavirus: Isolate your household – stay at home

Time for REAL action on floods & SuDS

David Walker in West Felton

In what seems like an age away now, Shropshire was swamped by floodwater. The latest flooding crisis to hit the county, last February, was only a few short weeks ago. For now, the Government and Shropshire Council have bigger worries with Coronavirus, but they mustn’t forget to take real action on floods & SuDS before the next flooding crisis.

Shropshire Council’s Conservative administration sacking the Chief Executive mid-way through the flooding crisis was extraordinary. But we shouldn’t expect anything else from this inept administration. It wasn’t that long ago that they were giving the Chief Executive a monster 50% pay rise to retain him. How times change. Back to flooding & SuDS…

As a Civil Engineering Surveyor of 30+ years, I have worked for the National Rivers Authority and the Environment Agency on many flood prevention projects. I have modelled many watercourses, their tributaries and their floodplains including The River Severn, The River Teme, The River Tame, The River Tyne, The River Taff, The River Dee, The River Trent, The River Stour, Afon Glaslyn, The River Elwy and The River Thames to name drop a few. The fact that the solutions to flooding have been catalogued for years are still there is no real action on flooding. Politicians make all the noises in a crisis but consistently fail to act on prevention or waste money on expensive engineering schemes. It makes my blood boil.

Deja Vu: We have been here before and we still aren’t learning the lessons

While I have been a councillor we have seen significant flooding in 2001, 2007, 2015 and now 2020. Indeed Shropshire long history of floods. Shropshire Council, The Environment Agency and the Government need to keep flooding plans in mind. If flooding is forgotten as an issue, again, then when the rains next fall, as rain inevitably will, then risk to life, business and property is also inevitable. Prevention is better than crisis management. Putting in place good policies now and encouraging good practice now across the whole River Severn catchment is essential. Unnecessary risk to life, businesses and property that is avoidable can’t be condoned.

Back in 2001, we had another big episode of flooding. There have been two other big floods between 2001 and 2020. When I was a County Councillor for Bridgnorth, as part of the Community and Environment scrutiny committee work, we examined the flooding issue, received evidence and produced a report. The conclusions of the 2001 report were the need to develop a ‘whole catchment’ plan for the River Severn. Porous surfaces and other drainage attenuation on developments to reduce run-off and ‘slow the flow’. Research then showed that changing farming practice – reduced sheep grazing on Welsh hill farms, returning drained land back to marshland, and tree planting – would also slow the flow.

By retaining heavy rainwater nearer to its source for longer the pressure is taken off downstream floodplains. By slowing the flow downstream from the source large peaks are reduced and spread out. Often in peak flood conditions, heavy rainfall over several days on the already saturated ground has a compound effect. Rainfall on the welsh hills takes time to get to the heart of Shropshire. That means the peak flow is a few days after the rain has fallen. With consecutive days of heavy rain that peak coincides with more local peak flows from local rainfall.

Runoff from grazed land or saturated land is higher as water doesn’t percolate into the groundwater. Marshland, tree, undergrowth and long grasses encourage rain to seep into the groundwater. Groundwater eventually gets to the river by this process is much much slower. Similarly, runoff from urban development is quickly removed into drainage systems and transport quickly to the river catchment. Conversely, in development with porous surfaces, water percolates straight into the ground locally, slowing progress to the river catchment. Adding marshland, paying farms to flood, and adding leaky dams in streams and ditches all have a part to play in slowing the flow.

This was all known in 2001!!

Flooding in Shrewsbury in FebruaryFlooding in Shrewsbury in February
Flooding in Shrewsbury in February once again caused huge losses for the local economy and for residents

Factoids:

Floodwater doesn’t flow. The channel does but the floodplain is basically a slow-moving lake.

Floodwater rises from the water table, not from River bursting their banks so flood preventing has to address water rising through drainage and cellars.

Bridges and other structures in the floodplain act like dams in flood conditions causing water to back up.

Daming effects start to happen at 75% capacity on pipes or bridge arches not at 100% capacity because of resistance. This is magnified when they aren’t normal to the flow.

Dredging isn’t the answer. It is also always thrown around as an answer. It sounds good and it sounds plausible but it is only temporary, destroys the habitat. It won’t create the volume and it just fills back up again. Cleaning the channel reduces resistance and does increase the flow but that only pushes the problem further downstream.

Extended periods of extreme rainfall are already seven times more likely than in pre-industrial times.

More than 5.2 million people in the UK live and work in 2.7 million properties that are at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea, 3 million are also at risk of surface water flooding, and 200,000 are at risk of groundwater flooding.

Only 10% of floodplains continue to provide their natural flood attenuation function.

42% of floodplains in England and Wales are separated from their rivers, largely by engineering. Part of this problem arises from granting of planning permission for housebuilding – residential development of floodplains has grown by 1.2% since 2011, 0.5% faster than other areas.

During a storm 3 baths fulls of rainfall can fall on a drive

Runoff picks up pollutants which contaminate our rivers
.

Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury during the floods. Pressure wave ripples highlighted in blueWelsh Bridge, Shrewsbury during the floods. Pressure wave ripples highlighted in blue
Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury during the floods. Pressure wave ripples highlighted in blue
Video footage of the pressure waves on Welsh Bridge. This can put huge structural pressure on a bridge.

As an aside: This seems like an appropriate moment to mentioned the North West Relief Road (NWRR)

In effect, if the much-lauded North West Relief Road (NWRR) around Shrewsbury is built, is poorly designed and doesn’t accommodate the volume needed at the crossing point over The River Severn it will act as a dam. This will cause more flooding in Melverley and the land north of Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury’s MP wants to turn the NWRR into a dam. This is madness of the highest order. This isn’t the first time it has been suggested. The same idea was floated and then rejected by the Environment Agency as uneconomic in 2009.

During the recent floods the Environment agency has been quoted to say: “470 tonnes of water a second were flowing through Ironbridge. Storing that volume for (say) a day means the storage needs to have a volume of 40.6 million cubic metres – say an area of 10km by 1 km flooded to a depth of 4 metres.”

You don’t solve flooding by displacing the volume. You have to manage the whole catchment and slow the flow of the whole catchment and reduce peak volumes to be effective.

‘Going with the flow’ SuDS infographic

Sustainable Urban Drainage Schemes (SuDS)

Water management is a vital aspect of good town planning. Planning for water provides opportunities to design our towns and cities to be greener, healthier, more attractive, more biodiverse and more resilient to climate change. Development can have significant impacts on water use and water network capacity affecting water resources, wastewater disposal and flood risk.

CIRIA | Planning for better water management | November 2019

Shropshire Council Planners and The Government for that matter, need to make SuDS a condition of every application within The River Severn catchment. They have been poor at applying policy in a constructive way to development within the catchment to slow the flow. As with most things in planning terms, if you actually want to control anything then you need robust policies to control development. On its own developers wouldn’t choose to develop in a sustainable way. All developments within a flood zone have extra hurdles to gain permission. That doesn’t mean no development. It just means that risk has to be managed properly.

NPPF 15. Conserving and enhancing the natural environment170. Planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by:

e) preventing new and existing development from contributing to, being put at unacceptable risk from, or being adversely affected by, unacceptable levels of soil, air, water or noise pollution or land instability. Development should, wherever possible, help to improve local environmental conditions such as air and water quality, taking into account relevant information such as river basin management plans

National Planning Policy Framework

The Environment Agency 2009 River Catchment Management Plan for Shropshire was very hands-off when it came to policy, with a graduated response within the catchment plan, rather than the blanket approach required. The Environment Agency 2015 Severn river basin district River basin management plan focused on catchment partnerships to deliver specific projects. The combination of the 2015 plan and the NPPF’s weak “wherever possible” wording in practice means nowhere except in flood zones. National Planning Policy Framework should explicitly require flood mitigation for any development within the River Severn catchment. So Shropshire Council’s policies aren’t robust enough to insist on SuDS on all development. This is something that needs fixing quickly before we have another flooding crisis.

Below is a great video from susdrain/CIRIA about where rain water goes. During a storm 3 bath fulls of water can fall on a drive. Multiply that up by thousands of houses, roofs and roads entering drainage systems and that is a lot of water flooding into The River Severn.

Want to see how a porous surface can help prevent storm rainwater getting into a river in minutes? This video shows 4,000 litres of water absorbed by porous asphalt in 60 seconds. The water goes into the ground water to slowly percolate into the river system. Planners should insist on SuDS EVERYWHERE in the river catchment area.

Further reading on floods & SuDS:

https://www.ciria.org/

https://www.susdrain.org/

Environment Agency 2009 River Catchment Management Plan

Environment Agency 2015 Severn river basin district River basin management plan

SuDS case study: Oakengates Leisure Centre


Woodland Trust: natural flood management with Leaky Dams

Potty Council pothole crisis

David Walker in West Felton
Dangerous Pothole on Station RoadDangerous Pothole on Station Road
Dangerous Pothole on Station Road, Whittington

Over recent weeks and months, the pothole plague has been spreading with a vengeance. More people than ever are complaining about the state of the roads. More people are making insurance claims for vehicle damage… and more claims are being dismissed by Shropshire Council out of hand. Shropshire Council pays out for just 1% of pothole claims. It relies on a defence that it has taken the “reasonable care” required under the Highways Act. In essence, if a council didn’t know about a pothole then can avoid a claim. Reports regularly boast of their success in rebuffing claims, but this is nothing to boast about.

How to make a pothole claim?

Shropshire Council have a pothole maintenace page with an attached pdf claim form.

David Walker reporting another pothole on national pothole day using a spirit level to gauge size and aid depth measurement.

It is important for everybody to report potholes. If Shropshire Council are aware of a pothole they can’t avoid a pothole claim for damage compensation. To report a pothole you can use Shropshire Council’s website. However, a better approach is to use the fixmystreet app. Shropshire Council accept fixmystreer reports. Fixmystreet allows you to attach photos and a gps grid location using your smartphone with ease. Everybody else who uses Fixmystreet can also see what is reported and avoid duplicate reports. They send reminders about updates and you can mark it as resolved when it has been repaired. None of which is possible on Shropshire Council’s website.

When reporting take photos, where safe to do so, using a prop for scale. It is important to measure the size (width, length and depth). Using a spirit level can help to accurately gauge the size and is the accepted method to measure a pothole’s depth. If no action is taken and or the codition gets worse or is unsafe, report it again.

How do potholes form?

This isn’t how it should be and we all expect better. Other counties are also having big problems with potholes but everybody can see that Shropshire’s are far worse. That comes down to the strategic decisions of the Conservative-run Shropshire Council. Yes, we have a huge road network. Yes, Shropshire gets a poor deal from the Government. Yes, Shropshire is the largest inland county in England. But at every level of government, the Conservatives control the levers of power and have for ages, so at some point, the Conservatives have to shoulder the blame for the appalling condition of our roads.

Shropshire Council favouring short-term fudge over long-term maintenance is the road to ruin as pothole claims grow

As a Civil Engineering Surveyor of 30+ years who has worked on many major and minor road projects, I always find Conservative-run Shropshire Council’s approach to roads deeply frustrating and bewildering. Favouring short-term fudge over long-term maintenance is the road to ruin.

Growing 4,500 pothole backlog

Shropshire Council has done a shocking job of managing the situation. Cutting £5m out of the roads budget, multiple times. Changing contractor when the last contractor was failing. Yet, the Conservatives scrapped the area approach when they set the new contract with Keir.

A previously repaired pothole. The old white paint can be seen as can the rectangle cut out. Lack of sealing has allowed water into the joints and allowed the repair to break out again and expandA previously repaired pothole. The old white paint can be seen as can the rectangle cut out. Lack of sealing has allowed water into the joints and allowed the repair to break out again and expand
A previously repaired pothole. The old white paint can be seen as can the old rectangle cut out. Lack of sealing has allowed water into the joints and allowed the repair to break out again and expand

Keir as their contractor has basically just done what they were contracted to do… Literally. So if they saw a pothole next to one they had gone out to repair, they left it alone as it wasn’t instructed. Even though that meant a return visit to address it on another day. All too often using temporary fill instead of doing a proper job. Permanent filling without proper jointing, sealing and filling, in reality, means a less than permanent fill and more return visits.

Far too often potholes are ignored because of their selection criteria. Yet they grow into a much bigger problem quickly. This means yet more extra journeys. Neglected potholes become a bigger more costly problem to fix and increased insurance claims. Far better to prevent the forming in the first place through proper planned roads maintenance.

With barely more than a dozen teams, constantly crisscrossing themselves, it is no wonder they built up a backlog. The backlog was reported as being a backlog of 3,500 potholes earlier in the year. However, currently, the backlog stands at 4,500 potholes. Crazy! Apparently, the contractor has already spent overspent this year by £6m. £21m in total – higher than the previous years budget as well. Yet our roads are worse than ever.

Shropshire Council payout £1,000 / day for Pothole Consultant

Park Hall roads are breaking up through overloading - typically shown by crocodile skin cracksPark Hall roads are breaking up through overloading - typically shown by crocodile skin cracks
Park Hall roads are breaking up through overloading of the sub-surface.

Cracks appearing in a pattern known as ‘crocodile skin’ or ‘alligator skin’ cracks

So to deal with a crisis of their own making the Conservatives opted to draft in a ‘pothole’ consultant and pay out the princely sum of £1,000 per day for the privilege. At a briefing that I attended the consultant explained he was changing the approach back to the one the previous contractors prior to the end of their term. He explained he was effectively trebling the number of teams to deal with the backlog. Both changes are significant variations to the contract. These changes plus the estimated £130,000 for the consultant will blow the budget wide apart.

All a ludicrous waste of time, energy and money.

The Conservatives cut the roads budget from £20m to £15m and expected the new contractor to do more for less money. There has been very little oversight of the contract. Most Shropshire Council Councillors haven’t even seen the contract. They certainly weren’t privy to how it was set up and they have been severely hampered in scrutinizing it in operation. Shropshire’s Conservative administration has operated as control freaks and has shut down scrutiny for years, even from some of their own members.

In recent weeks we have seen a string of scandals bringing the council into disrepute and making the council a national laughing stock. All on the watch of the portfolio holder, Cllr Steve Davenport, who said on TV that he was in charge but couldn’t change anything. A nonsensical position if ever there was one. He is the principal person with oversight and control of the contract. After multiple failures with multiple contractors, he should do the decent thing and simply resign. Any person with their spine removed, would have more control of their portfolio than he does. Shameful.

Councillor’s lane resurfacing row

The recent controversy over the resurfacing of a senior councillor’s lane in Trefonen that wasn’t in the work programme didn’t look good. In many quarters members of the public consider councillors to be on the fiddle and a generally rotten bunch. This is probably far from the truth for the vast majority of councillors but stories like this don’t help matters and give us all a bad name. The lane in question is about 1 mile long or 1.6km. To put that in context, the planned resurfacing for the whole of Shropshire for the 2020/2021 year is 4km! The lane cost £80,000 to resurface. Next year’s capital budget for resurfacing is £500,000. Just how did a lane, that wasn’t in the programme, manage to get funded? Am I to expect our lane, which is also not in the programme, to be done any day now!

Newly resurfaced lane – obviously in a high priority area for major resurfacing? Nice if you can get it.

About 1.6km long compared to the 4km for all of the resurfacing in next year’s capital programme for the WHOLE of Shropshire!

Image courtesy of @alfieeurope https://twitter.com/alfieeurope/status/122685849352264499

Whistleblower and official report expose mismanagement

A whistleblower at the Highways Department told Shrewsbury Councillor, David Vasmer, how the council was failing to manage Kier. David said: “Kier is failing to carry out necessary work on the ground despite receiving many thousands of pounds of tax-payers money.”

“An Audit Report has now been carried out. It confirmed the claims made by the whistleblower.” David said.

Multiple management failures with multiple contactors make you question the competence of the people at the top. Ultimately that means the portfolio holder and the administration councillors who signed off on the Keir contract.

Read more here: Whistleblower exposes management failure

Huge pothole on the turning for Rednal industrial estate in West Felton parish. This is particularly dangerous as it is on a bend with restricted visibility

Shirehall Lib Dems call for portfolio holder to resign and for the contract to be scrapped

Given all of the above, it is hardly surprising that Shropshire Lib Dems have demanded the resignation of the councillor in charge. At the last full council meeting at Shropshire Council, Lib Dems put forward a motion calling for Cllr Steve Davenport to resign. Prior to the meeting Cllr Davenport refuted the claims and refused to resign. At the meeting, the administration closed ranks and dismissed the motion without debate.

Shrewsbury Road, OswestryShrewsbury Road, Oswestry
Shrewsbury Road, Oswestry – Image courtesy of @alfieeurope https://twitter.com/alfieeurope/status/1226858493522644993

Capital Programme – literally papering over the cracks

In the latest capital programme, it is full to bursting with 91km of surface dressing projects. Surface Dressing looks nice initially but it only lasts for 2 or 3 years – 5 at the absolute best. Surface dressing is the cheapest and lowest grade maintenance option. It can temporarily improve traction and prevent excessive skidding. It does paper over cracks stopping water getting into the crack. However, just look at the state of Shrewsbury Road in Oswestry to see a particularly bad example of Surface Dressing failure.

  • Surface dressing: £2.5m over 91km or 1.4% of road network <= lowest grade repair to add stick chipping’s to surface
  • Slurry surface dressing of footpaths: £0.4m over 18km <= painting over cracks low-grade repair
  • Patching: £2.4m over 76km or 1.2% of road network <= mid-grade repair of areas of failure
  • Re-surfacing: £0.5m over 4km or 0.06% of road network <= higher grade repair where the top surface is plained off completely and relaid
  • Reconstruction of road sub-base £0 over 0km <= top-grade repair conspicuous by its absence

As the largest inland county in England, Shropshire has 6,500km of roads. Our roads are a mess because ‘surface dressing’ is done instead of proper resurfacing… Putting off the inevitable and allowing bigger structural problems to grow.

Only properly resurfacing 0.06% of Shropshire roads is potty.

At that rate, it would take 1.5 thousand years to resurface all of the counties roads!!

I have previously called for Shropshire Council to investigate plastic roads. Other councils are using recycled plastic to replace oil-based bitumen binding in road construction. Recycled glass could be used to replace sub-base aggregates as well. Reusing materials is an improvement environmentally, especially if it replaces fossil fuel. Plastic roads are stronger and longer-lasting.

Local Lib Dems demand better than our roads falling apart. Shropshire Council needs to do more to cut waste by instigating an efficient long-term programme of works that cuts pothole claims. The Conservatives may claim to be working hard to fix the roads but the evidence is plain for everybody to see every day.

LED upgrade £3m wasted savings

David Walker in West Felton

Shropshire Council are now belatedly upgrading their street lights to LED. They could have upgraded a long time ago but chose not to. They could have been building up savings or re-investing the savings for years. Arguably £3m wasted savings.

They could have funded it with a cheap loan using the Green Investment Bank (now axed). They could have used their then large capital pot with a cheaper internal loan. They tried bidding for government money to upgrade only the oldest lights. Their bid failed through lack of vision and ambition – other councils secured funds to upgrade the whole network.

Liberal Democrats suggested the upgrade over 3 years ago at and tried to get a better a plan added to the budget in 2017 ( See my call for the upgrade in 2017). More and more councils were upgrading – siting significant savings. Yet the Conservatives repeated insisted that it was too expensive.

Last year it was admited that it would take 36 years to upgrade at the rate they were progressing. A patently stupid timescale for which they were roundly crisised. Now, belatedly, very belatedly, they have opted to carry out the upgrade. Officers project nearly £900,000 savings a year by upgrading. If they had upgraded in 2017 the would have accrued savings of over £2 by now… even more if they had upgraded in 2015 – arguably over £3m wasted savings.

At a time of financial strain, passing over on such straightforward savings is appalling. What makes it worse is these aren’t one-off savings. They are revenue savings which happen every year and take the strain off our council tax bills. Such gross mismanagement of public funds is not acceptable.

  • How many potholes would those savings have fixed?
  • How many hard pressed services could have been supported with that money?
  • How much could have been ploughed back into upgrading other parts of the lighting network?

A more visionary council would have banked the savings and used them to support services or generate more savings. Upgrading would also have improved lighting whlst cutting light polution, helping to cut crime and helping to improve road safety. Indirect savings which all have a cash value.

All in all it just isn’t good enough. Sadly we see this sort of stupidity regularly from the Conservative-run Shropshire Council. As we all battle with our own budgets we deserve better than this. We demand better than this Conservative Administration.


By contrast, West Felton parish council upgraded all of their lights using The Neighbourhood Fund. This fund is drawn from the Community Infrastructure Levy, paid for by developers and didn’t put any pressure on council tax. Now the parish is saving 70% of its energy bills with lower maintenace, cutting its carbon footprint and playing its part in tckling the climate crisiis.

David Walker giving the thumbs up to the new LED street lightsDavid Walker giving the thumbs up to the new LED street lights
David Walker giving the thumbs up to the new LED street lights in West Felton in Feb 2019

West Felton PC also used Neighbourhood money to expand the number of lights in Queens Head. The last (pictured below) has been solar powered to avoid the extra cost of supplying a mains connection. This has largely been unsatisfactory. Intially the light’s battery went flat far too quickly. Adjustments fixed the duration. However, the PIR sensors don’t face up and down the road. Instead pointing downwards. So passing traffic doesn’t trigger the light until the vehicle is underneath or even past the column. West Felton PC will reconsider a main connection option next Tuesday at their March meeting.

David Walker by one of the new street Lights in Queens HeadDavid Walker by one of the new street Lights in Queens Head
David Walker by one of the new street Lights in Queens Head. This one has so far been a pain. Taking an age to try and connect to the mains, Then having to be solar powered with less than startling results. The Parish Council will consider connecting it to the main at the March meeting next week.