Most understand that the County Council, as the highway authority, is responsible for maintaining and improving our road network. Included in this has been a council duty to respond to residents when they ask for changes such as zebra crossings, lower speed limits, cycle routes, signing of road hazards and other traffic management interventions. Residents are best placed to know where there is a growing problem on the road where they live. Local Councillors have been able for decades to be the voice of their residents to get changes made to the road to make it safer, often encouraging greater walking and cycling. Until recently there has been Council funding to meet these community based requests.
Funding for all minor highway works, cycle and pedestrian improvements, speed limits (new or changes to existing) have already been cut entirely by Suffolk County Highways. Now Councillors have been told that it is just too expensive for highway staff time to even investigate residents’ road safety concerns. On Tuesday 13 September Suffolk County Council Conservative Cabinet decided to withdraw staff resources for any requests for speed limits, requiring instead that County Councillors should use the small locality budget they receive for community projects or parish and town councils be asked to pay for staff time. Councillors receive a budget of £6,500 per annum allocated to pay for construction, not staff time. Estimated to cost up £2,500 by the Council for staff to just investigate each enquiry, with construction costs in addition to this, it is unlikely now that any road scheme the community requests will ever get built. The County Council says “all costs will need to be covered” and that to put the Council highways on a more “business-like” footing, staff time for speed limit requests and in the future other forms of highway queries will have to be found from either the Councillor locality budget or parish, town councils.
The County Council is charging Suffolk residents twice over for the basic service of responding to their road safety concerns. It is outrageous that parish, town, borough or district councils will be asked to pay for staff time, already paid for by all residents in their Council tax. At Tuesdays meeting I argued that the Council’s priority should be improving road safety where necessary, not turning traffic safety in our communities into an elitist measure, only available to those who can pay out of their own pockets.
Cllr Sandra Gage
County and Borough Councillor for Rushmere, Ipswich
County Labour Spokesperson For Roads, Transport and Planning
Published in East Anglian Daily Times 17 September 2016