Village steps up the pressure for more active travel funding
As towns across Cheshire East welcome measures to improve walking and cycling in a drive to promote active travel, Holmes Chapel Parish Council has expressed “frustration” at a perceived bias towards larger towns.
As the Chronicle reported last week, the relationship between the parish and Cheshire East Council has caused concern “for a considerable period of time”, but the issue reared its head again when measures to mitigate covid-19 risks were introduced across the borough.
When funding for pedestrian safety measures during the pandemic were announced by the Government, the parish council “promptly” wrote to Coun Laura Crane, Cheshire East's Cabinet member responsible for highways and waste, with ideas for Holmes Chapel.
Despite the letter, the only measures provided in Holmes Chapel have been 2m distance signs, while towns including nearby Sandbach have had 20mph speed limits introduced on town centre roads. At a meeting of Holmes Chapel Parish Council on Thursday, councillors considered how to address the “black hole” in communication and even suggested involving constituency MP Fiona Bruce to mediate.
Coun Mike Blomeley, chair of the Village Infrastructure Committee, said: “I put together a report that summarises the history of our relationship with Cheshire East Highways and, inevitably, the frustration that is felt about the lack of progress we have made in getting issues addressed by them.”
Within Coun Blomeley's report was a response from the Cheshire East highways team to a letter that the parish council had originally sent to the leader of the borough council, Coun Sam Corcoran, who represents Sandbach Heath and East, about pedestrian safety on Macclesfield Road.
The response said that despite concerns, Cheshire East Council had nothing to add and that it “must focus available resources on high priority locations”.
Coun Blomeley argued: “The letter to Coun Corcoran that we wrote tried to bring an element of dialogue and cooperation. We asked if we could meet up with officers of the authority and discuss some of the issues, but we didn't even get a positive response to that.
“We were basically told that nothing could be done, they couldn't deal with these sorts of issues and that was the end of it.
“Having written to the leader of the council and been effectively rebuffed in no uncertain terms, we need to decide which way to go next in getting some of these matters addressed.”
The parish council also wrote to the Cheshire Association of Local Councils (Chalc), to ask if other towns and parishes were having similar experiences in their dealings with Cheshire East Highways.
Coun Blomeley said: “I am a bit disappointed that we don't seem to have had any response out of Chalc yet and I wonder where their loyalties lie, whether it's to small councils like us or not.
“We do need to chase them up and see whether they have found any information that supports our case - it will be disappointing if there aren't other councils that have had similar issues to us and are willing to step up.
“I had cause to go down to Crewe in the last week and, lo and behold, there were temporary 20mph limits on the roads for about three miles. Yet again, we get absolutely nothing in Holmes Chapel.”
Coun Blomeley was not the only one to compare Holmes Chapel to other areas in the borough where active travel provisions appeared to be more focused.
Coun Anita Armitt said: “I went along Congleton Road in Sandbach this morning and I saw the newly-painted 20mph signs on the road near Offley Primary Academy. There are flashing lights, school signs and a speed indication device all in one small area.
“It does beg the question: are we being discriminated against? It is overkill in Sandbach, yet we are not allowed anything in Holmes Chapel.”
Coun Brian Bath agreed, saying: “There seems to be a bias between what we and some of the larger towns are getting in terms of support from Cheshire East.
“The residents of Holmes Chapel contribute something like £6m a year in council tax but we don't see a lot of that coming back to us. We need to question where the devil they are spending our money.”
Coun Bath also commented about the strained relationship between the borough and the parish council, saying: “It's just like everything is a black hole as far as the highways department is concerned,” he said.
“We don't ever seem to get anything back from them at all. I am glad that the Chronicle is present at this meeting because we need to get the message out there.”
Coun Rab Parry said: “We need to get as much publicity for this issue as we can to get the public on side, because we're getting no concessions whatsoever in our attempts at negotiation.
“I was nearly going to suggest that we secede and join Cheshire West!”
Coun Chris Jackson suggested that the parish council called on the help of Congleton MP Fiona Bruce to bring some mediation to the relationship between the two councils.
“In my short term as a parish councillor I have become increasingly frustrated with the situation at Cheshire East,” he said. “In among all of the issues, there are a number of things that would have been very straightforward for Cheshire East to do that would have helped us enormously. Things like making improvements to the road markings on Macclesfield Road and putting in some 30mph roundels on Manor Lane to reinforce the speed limit.
“I very strongly believe that we should highlight the concerns about our current relationship with Cheshire East with our MP.”