The Bickerstaffe Record
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Bickerstaffe Thoughts, Cotterill on the Council

A councillor case study: the saga of the A577

01.25.11 | Comment?

I just thought it might be good to put up this section of a letter to some Bickerstaffe Ward residents (there’s actually another case-work issue in the letter which is less suitable for a blogpost). 

It gives, I think, a general indication of what councillors get up to in their ward work, and what barriers they face, often seeking to deal with matters over which they have little direct control.  Obviously, most of this kind of letter cannot be publicised as it deals with individual household issues, but I think it’s legitimate ot publish this one as it’s a matter which has, in any event, been raised in a Council committee.

 

Dear resident

A577 Road Safety Scheme

I am writing with a further and fairly full update on the long delayed A577 scheme as it relates to the multiple junction covering Lyelake Lane, Wigan Road, Dickets Lane and Plough Lane.

As you will know, this saga dates back to early 2007, when the (now disbanded) Lancashire Local meeting took on board our local campaign for safety measures at these junctions in the light of repeated accidents and damage to property, especially on the sharp Wigan Road/ Dickets Lane bend. The scheme was later expanded by the County Council to th whole length of the A577 between the Ormskirk and the Skelmersdale borders.

Initial suggestions from County officers were that the Wigan Road/Dickets Lane junction merited physical traffic-slowing measures, including the possibility of a roundabout or min-roundabout. There then followed a long period of inactivity as the scheme ‘queued’ in the resource list, despite repeated reminders to officers and councillors of the importance of th4e scheme given the continuing accidents.

Unfortunately, when plans were finally produced in early 2010 no such measures were identified, and investigations with officers indicated that this work had been disregarded on cost rather than safety grounds. In general, the plans that I then circulated to residents in the area (having been denied access to them myself initially) did not find favour. I submitted a paper covering both my own and residents’ concerns about the proposals to the County Council, and some residents provided their own views separately.

Subsequently, after a delay prior to the new government’s ‘emergency budget, when all capital expenditure (and apparently all decisions relating to it), the Cabinet member for Highways decided that our concerns expressed by myself and residents had no validity, and ordered that the works proceed as set out in the plans you saw in January 2010. There is no evidence that a site visit was made.

In response, I initiated a Councillor Call for Action process using a new power open to me under the Local Government Act 2007, under which I am able to call for appropriate action through formal committee process in cases where all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. This needs to be agreed in advance by the Committee chairman. This was achieved and at a Corporate Overview & Scrutiny meeting on 25th November I set out my case for a formal review by the County Council of the Cabinet Member’s decision, which I was argued was made unreasonably. I noted that there was no need to hold up works on the rest of the A577, which were then reported to be ‘on order’ but that there was a need to review your section of the road in light of legitimate safety concerns and the fear that these had been overlooked in the interests solely of cost reduction.

My resolution, that Borough Council officers write to the Executive Director for the Enivronment at the County seeking a review of the decision was unanimously agreed, in a rare moment of cross-party agreement, and the requirement for a review thereby became that of the whole Council committee, rather than mine alone.

Having chased the matter, the appropriate letter was dispatched in early December. Having chased the matter again in early January, a letter from the Executive Director was finally received by the Council, and copied to me, on 7th January 2011. Disappointingly, this letter simply reiterated the decision of the Cabinet Member and that the works were on order, although there was a promise to monitor the effectiveness of the works planned (a promise that will need to be kept on file for future use). Her letter took no notice of the fact that the concerns expressed were now, under the provisions of the Local Government Act 2007 (see above), now those of a formal Council committee and therefore required a different response than the one already provided.

I wrote back immediately to the Executive Director pointing out the problems with her reply. To date I have had an acknowledgment but nothing more, and as it stands.

This is, in my opinion, a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. It is my intention to make another Councillor Call for Action at the next Corporate Overview & Scrutiny, focusing this time on the fact that the legal powers accorded to the committee have apparently simply been ignored by the County Council. However, it is possible that party politics may play a part in whether I gain acceptance on this resolution.

Clearly, I am disappointed that I have not been able to achieve more in respect of your legitimate concerns about the road safety in your area, and I will keep trying to get a resolution. In this letter I simply wanted to spell out in a little detail the efforts made, and the fact that institutional inertia and obduracy have been against me, as well as giving an idea of what I think the next campaign steps should be.

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss this matter (via any of the methods set out above beneath my address), or to see copies of the recent documentation.

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