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County officer blasted by town councillors over lollipop axe

Wednesday, 2nd February 2011.

Town councillors queued up at their meeting last night to express their disgust at the proposal by Suffolk County Council to axe school crossing patrols.

The county council's road safety and traffic plan manager Mike Mottram was the target sent along to Haverhill Town Council to be fired at, as he told them he had been at town and parish councils across the county in recent weeks.

He attended to explain the implications of the proposals, but when it came down to it, he could not give definitive answers to many of the town councillors' questions.

They, in common with other similar councils, wanted to explore how they could pick up the cost of the patrols in their area to keep them going.

In Haverhill there are two crossing patrols, in Burton End and in Wratting Road. Mr Mottram said the total cost of them was about 8,600 a year - 3,960 at Burton End and 3,532 at Wratting Road.

The total cost being saved across the county was 174,000.

Town and parish councils were keen to pay the day-to-day costs, but concerned about taking on the employment of the staff, including recruiting, checking and supervising costs.

Mr Mottram said the county council had not yet decided whether it would be axing all the department supervisors as well as the patrols, or whether one could be kept on to carry out these responsibilities.

He said making sure children got to school safely was the parents' responsibility in law, but Cllr Maureen Byrne told him that was a 'glib and easy' response.

"I can tell you that glib statements like that will not go down well here," she said.

Cllr Pat Hanlon said: "Considering the county council is a billion-pound turnover operation, I think the 174,000 for our children's safety is an absolute pittance."

Cllr Paul McManus said both roads concerned were very busy and it was absolutely essential the service was continued somehow. "This is a very serious safety issue," he said.

Mr Mottram admitted the full implications had not yet been explored. For instance, there might be traffic congestion. At a crossing in Ipswich 550 children crossed each morning and, if they did it singly, traffic could come to a standstill.

He also admitted, when challenged by Cllr Clive Turner, that the proposals ran counter to the county council's own policy of encouraging children to walk to school for health reasons.

But he could not give town councillors any firm information about the potential for transfering the costs to them until the county council made a final decision on the axing on February 17.

Town clerk Gordon Mussett urged that the information should be passed on very quickly after that date because the latest date for town and parish councils to set their budgets for next year was February 28 and they needed to know what to include.

Two Conservative town councillors, Anne Gower and Phillip French, are also county councillors and both vowed to speak against the proposals at the county council meeting.

But Cllr Mary Martin (Labour) said that was all very well but if it came to a vote, she hoped they would also vote against 'this penny-pinching measure'.

"We'll be keeping a close eye on how you do vote," she warned them.

Cllr Byrne, the Labour group leader, said she thought the decision had already been made by the county council.

"I don't trust Suffolk County or St Edmundsbury Borough councillors when it comes to Haverhill and cuts," she said.

Members inquired about the cost of a light-controlled crossing, which might be cheaper than a patrol over several years, but were told by Mr Mottram they started at 40,000 and went rapidly upwards.

One currently being installed in Lowestoft was costing 175,000.

Mr Mussett asked if the county council might consider part-funding a 40,000 one in Haverhill if the town council paid the other half, which would be the equivalent of about six years of the costs of a crossing patrol, but, again, Mr Mottram couldn't give an answer.

Haverhill Online News

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