Coun­cil­lors send de­ci­sion to axe lol­lipop ladies back to Ex­ec­u­tive

The Wokingham Paper - - NEWS -

On Mon­day night, a meet­ing of the coun­cil’s overview and scru­tiny com­mit­tee de­lib­er­ated over July’s vote to axe school cross­ing pa­trollers. SUE COR­CO­RAN was present and brings this spe­cial re­port de­tail­ing their de­lib­er­a­tions, ex­plain­ing why the coun­cil’s rul­ing body will now need to vote again on the plans

THE fight to stop re­moval of lol­lipop ladies out­side some schools has been given a big boost.

In a rare move, Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough coun­cil­lors from all three par­ties have or­dered a re­view of the de­ci­sion to axe seven pa­trollers and re­place them with pedes­trian cross­ings.

In a crunch vote at the end of a meet­ing of the Overview and Scru­tiny com­mit­tee held at Shute End on Mon­day evening, Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lor Kate Haines (Coro­na­tion ward) joined two Lib Dem coun­cil­lors and one Labour coun­cil­lor to send the de­ci­sion back to the coun­cil’s Ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

This will now take place at a spe­cial emer­gency meet­ing to be held on Mon­day, Septem­ber 17.

The vote comes de­spite the com­mit­tee be­ing Con­ser­va­tive con­trolled. Two Con­ser­va­tives voted against: the other Con­ser­va­tives present did not vote.

The de­ci­sion to ‘call in’ the plan to axe the cross­ing con­trollers was made by the op­po­si­tion Lib­eral Demo­crat coun­cil­lors fol­low­ing the sign­ing of two pe­ti­tions by a to­tal of 1,862 peo­ple have raised con­cerns about ax­ing the pa­trollers.

This lead to a full coun­cil de­bate held in July where Con­ser­va­tive coun­cil­lors unan­i­mously stood up in the cham­ber to de­clare that ze­bra, pel­i­can and puf­fin cross­ings would be safer for school runs than the much-loved lol­lipop ladies and men, known of­fi­cially as school cross­ing pa­trollers.

Seven school sites were af­fected by the de­ci­sion to axe the cross­ings, but work had to be halted as a re­sult of the callin de­ci­sion.

On Mon­day, the scru­tiny com­mit­tee heard crit­i­cisms about how the de­ci­sion to axe and re­place the lol­ly­pop ladies was made by the coun­cil’s pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

Call­ing them to ac­count, the scru­tiny com­mit­tee, gave rea­sons for ask­ing for the re­view:

The orig­i­nal de­ci­sion to stop hav­ing pa­trollers was in 2015, be­fore the con­sul­ta­tion with schools and res­i­dents. This meant the con­sul­ta­tion was not seen as mean­ing­ful.

The 2015 de­ci­sion was taken with­out an un­der­pin­ning busi­ness case. The July 2018 ex­ec­u­tive re­port failed to show cur­rent cross­ing pa­trol costs and also the full fi­nances of putting the per­ma­nent cross­ings into ac­tion, their main­te­nance and fu­ture re­place­ment.

The 2015 de­ci­sion was taken with­out an un­der­pin­ning equal­ity im­pact as­sess­ment to see if dis­ad­van­taged or vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple would be dis­crim­i­nated against. The April 2018 as­sess­ment did not de­tail con­sul­ta­tion with spe­cific groups. It did not have give in­di­vid­ual de­tails about each cross­ing site.

The ex­ec­u­tive will now have to re­think in the light of the crit­i­cisms.

Diane Burch, a cross­ing pa­troller in Murray Road, Wok­ing­ham, whose job is threat­ened, said after­wards: “I’m hop­ing Murray Road will be a spe­cial case be­cause of its traf­fic sit­u­a­tion. They need to see me in ac­tion.”

She told the meet­ing: “It’s a very dan­ger­ous and busy spot. If I’m re­placed with a cross­ing it will be an ac­ci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen.”

She said a sur­vey had shown 150 pedes­tri­ans cross­ing in half an hour in the morn­ing.

But her own half-hour sur­vey start­ing 15 min­utes later, and cov­er­ing her duty time, showed 295 adults and chil­dren cross­ing.

“A lot of the chil­dren have scoot­ers, I make them walk them across. It’s a safety fea­ture,” she said.

“With­out me be­ing there you will get grid­lock .... I can make the de­ci­sion when to stop the peo­ple and traf­fic. I ask those who park on dou­ble yel­low lines to move on, they un­der­stand and move.”

She added that res­i­dents did not want her to go.

Cllr Lind­say Fer­ris (Twyford, Lib Dem), Cllr Ian Pit­tock (Fin­champ­stead South, Lib Dem) and Cllr Andy Croy (Bul­mer­she and White­gates, Lab) all voted for the ex­ec­u­tive re­think.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Fer­ris said after­wards he was very pleased about the de­ci­sion.

He told the scru­tiny meet­ing that the res­i­dents’ con­sul­ta­tion or­gan­ised by Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil ear­lier this year was “noth­ing more than lip ser­vice” and an equal­ity im­pact as­sess­ment pre­pared for the Ex­ec­u­tive’s de­ci­sion making was a tick box ex­er­cise.

He added that the busi­ness case was “com­pletely de­fi­cient.”

He felt that the cost of the of­fi­cer to su­per­vise the cross­ing pa­trollers should have been a third of that given and the fig­ures over­es­ti­mated the pa­trollers’ cost, while fu­ture costs of per­ma­nent cross­ings should have been in­cluded. In 15 years’ time the £361,000 cross­ings could cost £500,000 to re­place when they wore out.

Cllr Croy said there was a risk the con­sul­ta­tion had not picked up some con­cerns raised by res­i­dents in the con­sul­ta­tion and felt that the coun­cil had a chance to show it did lis­ten to them.

Emm­brook res­i­dent Keith Malvern said that com­pared with 251 fa­tal­i­ties na­tion­ally on all cross­ings over a pe­riod there had been only four on hu­man pa­trolled ones.

An the Murray Road area raised by res­i­dents was heav­ily con­gested, par­tic­u­larly at school times. School gates were close to the road and if chil­dren ran out it could be into the arms of the pa­troller. This would not hap­pen with a ze­bra cross­ing. It was also pointed out that chil­dren from The Holt, Emm­brook and Woose­hill schools all walked through the area.

An­nette Med­hurst of Meadow Nurs­ery School in Murray Road said: “I’m very con­cerned about the safety of the chil­dren.”

Sites, she added, should be looked at on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis. “Our pa­trollers do a fan­tas­tic job – they go above and be­yond their job de­scrip­tion,” she said.

She felt that res­i­dents’ con­cerns had been con­sid­ered ir­rel­e­vant by coun­cil­lors and then dis­missed. “I felt the de­ci­sion had been made, it felt like it was al­most a ret­ro­spec­tive con­sul­ta­tion.” Par­ents had been en­cour­aged to fill in the con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment. The nurs­ery had also set up a pe­ti­tion and writ­ten to coun­cil­lors. “We hoped that would be a more ef­fec­tive way of get­ting our opin­ions known,” she said.

Cillr Imo­gen Shep­herd-DuBey (Emm­brook, Lib Dem) said: “The loss of the lol­lipop lady at Emm­brook In­fants and Ju­nior Schools has been se­vere.”

Com­plaints about poor park­ing had in­creased and the schools now had a ‘hold­ing pen’ in­side the school gates as par­ents were wor­ried about the road. Pre­vi­ously, the pa­troller had man­aged these prob­lems.

She added that one study of pedes­trian and ve­hi­cle num­bers had been done at half-term while re­dun­dancy warn­ings were sent out be­fore con­sul­ta­tions were com­plete.

Each school’s needs should have been as­sessed for equal­ity im­pact. Par­ents had lit­tle chance to change the plan. There had been no con­sul­ta­tion dur­ing its for­ma­tive stages.

She added that a ze­bra cross­ing at the For­est School was re­moved be­cause it was dan­ger­ous.

Cllr Pit­tock said the coun­cil had been “frankly dis­mis­sive of res­i­dents’ views”.

Cllr An­thony Pol­lock (Shin­field South, Con) ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber for trans­port said:

“I have sought to lis­ten. I recog­nise it is a sen­si­tive is­sue.”

It was dif­fi­cult to make a con­sul­ta­tion where it was more emo­tive rather than fac­tual. “I have tried to lis­ten and take on board com­ments made. I have asked for changes as a re­sult of that,” he added.

He de­nied the coun­cil’s con­sti­tu­tion had been breached and said that the process had been as fair and de­tailed as it could be.

He had vis­ited all the sites. At Murray Road he was “im­pressed by driv­ers’ pre­pared­ness to stop and let peo­ple cross the road.” He saw no speed­ing cars.

“We have bent over back­wards to con­sult and lis­ten.”

He had asked the of­fi­cers to look at pave­ment width out­side a school and in­cor­po­rated views from a nurs­ery school into a fi­nal cross­ing de­sign to make it as safe as pos­si­ble.

The coun­cil had con­sulted and the pro­pos­als were safe.

Where pa­trolled cross­ings had been re­moved in the past year there had been no ad­di­tional ac­ci­dents. Per­ma­nent cross­ings were avail­able through­out the day.

He wanted safer routes to school. “If it costs a bit more to do it, I’m afraid we have to,” he added.

Cllr Fer­ris claimed the ex­ec­u­tive had made a de­ci­sion on in­com­plete and in­ac­cu­rate fig­ures. Cllr Pol­lock said the cash flow would be re­paid in eight years.

Cllr Croy said 97% of peo­ple con­sulted had been op­posed to los­ing the cross­ing pa­trollers. He asked what per­cent­age would have been needed for a changed de­ci­sion.

Cllr Pol­lock said the im­pos­si­bil­ity of a cross­ing be­ing in­stalled or that it would be un­safe would have had to be shown.

Cllr Pit­tock said op­po­si­tion coun­cil­lors had just a week to study 1,000 lines of bud­get cuts pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing the pa­trollers plan, in 2015.

They needed longer to scru­ti­nise them.

Also speak­ing was Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough Coun­cil high­ways of­fi­cer Matt Gould.

He said the coun­cil had writ­ten to the pa­trollers say­ing they were at risk of re­dun­dancy af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sion to re­move them. They had still not been given no­tice.

Cllr Fer­ris asked about the au­thor­ity needed to carry on with work for two sites in the sum­mer.

Di­rec­tor of Lo­cal­i­ties Josie Wragg said that af­ter the call in for the strat­egy com­mit­tee to look at the plan, there had to be a de­ci­sion about con­tin­u­ing. Stop­ping the work would have in­curred the coun­cil con­sid­er­able fi­nan­cial costs.

Cllr Shahid You­nis (Bul­mer­she and White­gates, Con) said of the ex­ec­u­tive’s de­ci­sion to re­move the pa­trollers: “I don’t be­lieve this was a cost sav­ing ex­er­cise. It’s more ex­pen­sive in the long run.”

He said each cross­ing should be looked at sep­a­rately. Murray Road, Wok­ing­ham should be high­lighted. He had some con­cerns about the con­sul­ta­tion. Some things needed do­ing bet­ter next time.

Cillr Bill Soane (Lod­don, Con) said: “There are some ar­eas where one size doesn’t fit all. We should look at all sites in­di­vid­u­ally.”

Cllr Mal­colm Richards (Nor­reys, Con) said cross­ing pa­trols were very dif­fi­cult to main­tain and that there are no vol­un­teers when a va­cancy arose. Per­ma­nent cross­ings pro­vided sub­stan­tial ex­tra safety.

The Wok­ing­ham Pa­per has been re­port­ing on is­sues around school cross­ing pa­trollers over the past year, in­clud­ing high­light­ing chil­dren’s anger over the ax­ing of ‘Mrs Lolly’

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