Scrapping ‘highway rangers’ who help solve complaints across West Sussex’s road network would be a mistake, according to one county councillor.
The community support teams were set up to deal mainly with ‘green’ issues such as overgrown vegetation, obscured and dirty road signs.
But West Sussex County Council decided to cease funding them in 2014/15 in order to save £320,000, but the highways department continued to fund the highway rangers from one-off underspending.
Now the cabinet member for highways and transport has decided to end the scheme permanently.
At a recent Environment and Community Services Select Committee meeting, officers explained that the current service delivered by the community support teams was ‘over and above the statutory requirements’, while the new arrangements could ‘empower the parishes and countryside community groups to do it for themselves when they want to do it’.
Philip Circus (Con, Storrington) called proposals a ‘mistake’ and asked where parishes would get the funds to carry out any works without putting their council tax precepts up.
He added: “My view is this proposal is fundamentally wrong.”
Mr Circus felt the changes were ‘financially driven rather than common sense driven’, and went on to quote Oscar Wilde, saying: “People know the price of everything but the value of nothing.”
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) added: “I think it would be a poor show if the county council tried to palm this off to the parish councils and will result in very patchy coverage.”
In response John O’Brien (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood), WSCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “This is not abrogating our responsibilities. It was something that was brought in when money was good.”
He added: “We do not have the money to deliver what we would call aesthetics.”
Mr O’Brien pointed out that WSCC did not have any highway rangers before they were introduced and the proposals would not see any changes to how the authority dealt with safety issues and road defects.
Instead the county council will be working with parish and town councils as well as voluntary and community groups to allow them to provide some of the work currently undertaken by highways rangers.
Meanwhile the authority’s own highways officers will be provided with vans and equipment needed to carry out some of the functions previously done by the community support teams.
According to officers: “It is anticipated that value for money will be demonstrated by encouraging other parties such as parish councils to take on local delivery of services with the correct support and training to deal with these types of issues with minimal financial impact.
“It is anticipated that by working together in partnership, this approach will promote localism and support the desire to achieve an improved street scene environment in West Sussex.”
During a consultation on proposed changes, WSCC received 89 responses from town and parish councils and other groups, with 52 per cent supporting the partnership option, while 34 per cent supported keeping the highway rangers.
Meanwhile, 219 responses from residents were received, with 52 per cent backing active partnerships, 25 per cent in favour of keeping the highway rangers, and 15 per cent supporting the retention of the community support teams but at a reduced level.
Mr Circus proposed that the select committee oppose the proposals, but this was lost on the chairman’s casting vote, and councillors then endorsed the recommendations.