Agenda item

Discussion on Highways and Transport issues


Highways Officer Andrew Turner spoke about issues and pressures facing the Highways services. He gave details of a trial that was run in the Exmoor LCN and explained that some of the initiatives from Exmoor could easily transfer to other LCN areas. One of these was the development of a Highway Steward. Details provided included:


        A single, skilled operative with a vehicle and tools tasked for an LCN or cluster of parishes to do minor highway maintenance.

        Work would include such things as blocked drains, cutting back overhanging vegetation and grass cutting.

        Wiltshire saw an 80% reduction in contact made to the highway authority when introduced there.

        The cost is £50k per year which includes the Steward, vehicle, tools and overheads.

        Kier is very keen to develop and support the scheme.

        One steward could be shared across an LCN area.

        There would be a minimum of sign up of 1 year to the scheme.


Kate Hellard suggested a Teams meeting be arranged for Parishes to learn more about the scheme and those interested could align and share the cost between them. Andrew Turner also offered to share contacts with the Exmoor communities that have experience of the Highway Steward scheme. It was suggested that people from the Exmoor LCN Highways sub group could also join the Teams meeting. She offered her help to support and assist if the Shepton LCN wished to also set up a similar sub group.


In response to a question regarding what services Somerset Council Highways would continue to be provided, Andrew Turner advised that it would depend on the financial budgetary decisions that were currently being made. One done, he would confirm this to the LCN. He also confirmed that Keir were happy to manage the additional workforce that the Steward scheme would entail and provide the necessary vehicles and equipment.

The discussion topic then changed to the recent flooding that had occurred in the Shepton Mallet area.


Shepton Mallet Parish Councillor Matt Harrison shared some pictures and history of the flooding and said that after Storm Alex hit in 2020, Mendip District Council prepared a flood defence report which had only just been signed off that day – 11 January 2024. He said it need to be implemented urgently.       


The Chair then invited two residents of Berryman Close to share their experiences of the flooding with the LCN, and how it was continuing to affect and disrupt their lives. They gave harrowing and moving accounts of the night of the flood and the subsequent difficulties they were facing for the clean-up and repairs to the damaged buildings and property. The Chair thanked them for sharing their story with the LCN.


Somerset Councillor Edric Hobbs, who had helped the residents with the clean up and logistics in the subsequent days, questioned whether there was an emergency contingency plan for situations like this, and if there was, why it had not been implemented? Tim Cook from Somerset Council responded that there would be a lot that the Council and Rivers Authority could learn from this. He spoke about an online reporting tool that everyone affected should use as it would help provide essential statistics. There would be community drop in events with various agencies attending and emergency planning workshops for Parish and Town Councils to help with community resilience. He would share contact information with the LCN.


Parish Councillor Tom Killen was concerned about the lack of an emergency plan as a great deal of work had been done previously by Mendip District Council in 2013/14 to put a detailed plan together. He encouraged Councillor Hobbs to investigate its whereabouts.


After further discussion the LCN agreed that the time for talking was over and what was needed was urgent implementation of the flood defence strategy and practical help for those affected now. Tim Cook advised he would look at the strategy report but that a flood sub group may be a good idea. Kate Hellard would arrange another meeting for the authors of the flood defence strategy report and representatives from other relevant organisations to get this underway.