Cabinet member hits back over 'safe streets' delay criticismby Keri Trigg
Shropshire Council has defended its delay in implementing car-free zones outside the county’s schools after criticism that measures were not in place by the start of term.
Councillor David Vasmer, who represents the Underdale division in Shrewsbury, had labelled the authority “pathetic” for failing to implement ‘school streets’ more than eight weeks after councillors voted in support of the policy.
Under the scheme, roads with schools on are closed to motor traffic for short periods at the start and end of the school day, in an effort to promote active travel, cut air pollution and improve road safety – as well as allowing for social distancing at the school gates while coronavirus-related safety restrictions remain in place.
A motion by Councillor Vasmer calling for the council to adopt the policy was supported at a full council meeting on July 16, but no measures will be put in place until after full report on the matter is presented to councillors at their next meeting on September 24.
This is in order to align councillor Vasmer’s motion with an earlier motion by Councillor Dan Morris in December 2019 calling for a blanket 20mph speed limit outside all schools.
Councillor Ed Potter, portfolio holder for education, defended the council’s stance, saying: “A paper is being presented for consideration at full council this month that specifically addresses the implementation of a 20mph limit outside all Shropshire Schools – and provides a rationale, resource allocation, issues to be addressed and timescale for implementation.
“The paper has been co-authored by highways and education officers and provides an approach to implementation of 20mph limits.
“Within this paper the issue of school streets has also been addressed. As 20mph limits may not be applicable to all schools due to factors such as location, geography or the schools’ immediate neighbourhood, school streets may well provide another option.
“Hence, a ‘blended’ approach may well provide greater benefits and anticipated outcomes of safer school routes, reducing accidents, improving air quality and assisting obesity via active travel.”
Councillor Potter said assessment, planning and implementation of of any changes would take time – which was not on the council’s side as the council motion was passed days before the end of the school year.
He said: “This afforded little or no time to begin working with schools, either collectively or individually.
“Besides requiring a much-needed rest for the summer holidays, having been managing the impact of the pandemic in their schools since lockdown on 20 March with little or no break, the key focus for senior leaders in schools was on the planning for the full reopening of schools at the beginning of September and ensuring their schools were Covid-safe.”
He said council resources had also been diverted to deal with the crisis, for example in implementing road closures and other social distancing measures.
Councillor Potter added: “Hence, work to deal with Covid-19 has been undertaken across the county to ensure the safest environment possible, and school streets can be moved forward in conjunction with our schools and communities as the council report will state.”
Councillor Vasmer, a member of the council’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, last week expressed fears it would be “the end of the school year before anything gets done”.
He said: “Action should have been taken in July immediately after the motion was carried to make the journey to school safer and more healthy for as many children as possible.
“Shrewsbury’s High Street could be closed at the drop of a hat, and more recently Victoria Quay, and yet we have to wait months for the council to implement a policy that was supported by councillors from all parties.”