Melford councillors criticise plans to give minor roadworks to volunteers
Volunteers may be called upon to carry out minor highways works themselves under a new county initiative – drawing criticism from opposition councillors, who say Suffolk Highways is passing on its responsibilities.
Suffolk County Council confirmed it is pursuing options for a community self-help scheme, through which towns and villages would be asked to conduct remedial works in their communities, enabling the highways team to focus on pothole repairs.
But critics argue volunteers are already taking on too much, and that people are not getting a good return on their tax contributions.
The council said such an approach would allow members of the public to support local roads, paths, verges and rights of way, although it emphasised it would never ask volunteers to fill in potholes or work on or near a carriageway, for safety reasons.
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 in this activity.”
The spokesman explained that a recent survey of 152 parish and town councils found that 63 per cent already undertook minor highways work, including cutting grass, spreading grit, clearing snow and cleaning road signs.
In the survey, 34 per cent of respondents said they would be interested in doing minor work, while 66 per cent said either they would not be interested, or they are not right now but may be in the future.
But Long Melford’s independent county councillor Richard Kemp told the Free Press that Suffolk residents are becoming frustrated with the level of service that is currently being offered by Suffolk County Council.
Mr Kemp said: “I think this impinges upon the faith of volunteers, who now help to run libraries and schools.
“The police seem to be going over to a DIY system and so it goes on.
“There is a limit to what volunteers can take on.
“Besides that, most people pay council tax, a fee to the DVLA for having a motor car, petrol duty and all the rest. Just what do we get for our money?
“If higher authorities wish to pass down further duties to parishes, then let’s have a proper structure with some funding being passed down to parishes and town councils.
“I am perfectly certain that with some funding from Suffolk County Council, parishes could, through approved contractors, make a better job of minor repairs to paths and roads.
“At present, the public are getting restless and frustrated at what is happening in local government.”
Long Melford parish and district councillor John Nunn added that the scheme presented a number of issues, such as whether volunteers will be covered by county council insurance and receive proper funding and safety training.
He said: “Many people will think this idea is one step too far for the public to volunteer for, whereas others may be willing to keep their villages clean and tidy. I am sure opinions will be split.”