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Suffolk Highways eye plan for communities to do low level road works themselves

PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 May 2018 | UPDATED: 08:30 08 May 2018

Road signs in Long Melford were cleaned by volunteers recently. Picture: JOHN NUNN

Road signs in Long Melford were cleaned by volunteers recently. Picture: JOHN NUNN

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Volunteers, community groups and parish councils could soon carry out low level highways work under plans by road chiefs.

An influx in potholes has meant those need to be prioritised, highways bosses said.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNAn influx in potholes has meant those need to be prioritised, highways bosses said. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Early discussions are underway for the Community Self Help scheme – a project which will allow parish and town councils and other community groups to carry out minor work that Suffolk Highways does not currently have the budget or time to do.

Highways bosses last week told Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee that it was operating at about 30% of the budget it needed to carry out all work on the county’s highways, and an influx of pothole reports meant they had to prioritise those.

Now, the Self Help scheme is being developed that will allow work such as cleaning and replacing signs to cutting back branches which currently are not able to be carried out by Highways because of funding.

But project bosses have stressed it will not mean parish councils putting volunteers in the road and filling in their own potholes.

A Suffolk Highways spokesman said: “We are currently looking into potential ways that Suffolk’s town and parish councils could support us in delivering minor remedial works in their community. We understand from many councils that they are keen to do more, however our priority concern is the safety of anyone who may be involved.”

Under the plans community and volunteer groups and parish councils could be able to cut back brances and hedges. Picture: SIMON PARKERUnder the plans community and volunteer groups and parish councils could be able to cut back brances and hedges. Picture: SIMON PARKER

The scope of the work is likely to be signs, verges and pavements rather than work in the road.

Figures published by Suffolk Highways said that revenue funding had dropped by 40% over the last eight years and pointed to its sign maintenance budget – just £112,000 to look after the county’s 102,000 signs – as indicative of the funding squeeze.

Guidelines are currently being put together and expected to be launched in June.

A ‘menu’ of what work can be carried out is likely to be put together, with the process enabling town and parish councils to effectively hire a crew to carry out work or have training.

The Community Self Help scheme could see volunteer groups help with tasks such as cleaning road signs. Picture: JOHN NUNNThe Community Self Help scheme could see volunteer groups help with tasks such as cleaning road signs. Picture: JOHN NUNN

A survey sent to town and parish councils resulted in 152 responses, with 63% reporting that they already did low level works such as snow clearing, sign cleaning and vegetation clearance.

The spokesman added: “This is not about communities undertaking work that we are able to and do undertake, but about how communities can add to and undertake more, on top of what we provide.”

The county council’s opposition Labour group has been critical of the plans, branding them as “unacceptable”.

Jack Owen, the Labour group’s spokesman for roads and transport, said: “This is less about the empowerment of local communities and more about a Tory-run Suffolk County Council trying to shirk its responsibilities on highways.

Under the plans community and volunteer groups and parish councils could be able to cut back brances and hedges. Picture: SIMON PARKERUnder the plans community and volunteer groups and parish councils could be able to cut back brances and hedges. Picture: SIMON PARKER

“Clearly, local residents would like to keep their area and road signs clean and tidy but they should not have to pay twice for it if local councils have to take on additional staff to carry out the work.

“It seems inevitable that, not only will communities have to do the job of the County Council, they will also have to pick up the bill.

“This is totally unacceptable at a time when Suffolk’s taxpayers have just been hit with a 5% increase in their council tax and proves that, under the Conservatives, you pay more and get less.”

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